The Art of Satisfaction: Balancing Desire and Reality

The golf ball landed less than 10 feet from the hole on the 16th green. It was close enough that the putt was makable, but also at a distance that having sailed there from 168 yards away, it was still going to be tough.

As I walked onto the green, I felt completely satisfied with the shot. Sure, I could have told myself that it was close to going in, but that would just be lying to myself — it was closer than 11 feet, but longer than 9, and in golf that’s still far.

Yet, to me personally, 10 feet is fantastic. That’s what was so satisfying.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be satisfied. Many people, myself included, often want more or think there’s some better option. But when do we just sit back and say this is good enough… and for that, I’m satisfied.

The term “satisfied” relates to a sense of contentment, fulfillment, and gratification. Essentially, all of your needs, expectations, and desires have been met so there’s no need for any changes in a given situation.

Interestingly, a balance between reality and desires is often what enables satisfaction. In other words, I was hoping to hit a hole-in-one, yet knew that was unlikely and so my desire to just get the 1.68-diameter ball close enough was all I was hoping for. While I didn’t define “close enough” in measurement terms upfront, pretty much anything on the green would have sufficed, which I had accomplished.

There are two areas of satisfaction: Personal and Professional. 

The first, Personal, focuses on yourself (mentally and physically), your relationships, your hobbies, your material goods, etc. — the needs but also the wants.

Two months ago I wasn’t satisfied with my weight. I was hitting a higher number on the scale than I was used to. I worked out almost every day but that alone wasn’t helping me lose a few pounds.

So I put together a satisfaction plan to lose 20 pounds. I began cutting calories from breakfast by eating three egg whites and hot sauce (no more cheese!). I also started preparing my lunch, which consisted of steak or chicken and a green vegetable, for the week on Sunday. Snacking became no more than a protein bar. Most difficult perhaps was decreasing my beer intake.

Less than two months later, I hit 16 pounds lost. I’m thrilled but will not be satisfied until those four additional pounds are shed.

I’m not naive to what could happen next: I’m going to reach my goal and may think I should try to lose more; however, my awareness of that at this moment will prevent me from doing so. Even at 20 pounds heavier, I was still in the “fitness” range related to body fat percentage. So while I will be satisfied with my weight, I’ll work on other areas of my body such as lowering that body fat percentage.

No one will ever achieve a state of holistic satisfaction. Without it, you would be complacent and lack the motivation to grow, improve, or evolve. This also pertains to Professional Satisfaction, which focuses on your achievements in a work setting.

These achievements don’t need to be an award or promotion, but what you accomplish, the value you provide to your organization or even the relationships you hold.

I’ll be completely honest: Every time I walk out of the classroom (at least 28 times a year) having spent the last two and a half hours with my students at New York University, I never feel satisfied. I always believe I should have spent more time on a topic or covered something I didn’t. The thing is: I know the next time I teach that class it’s going to be better than that one. My class today is seven times better than it was in 2016.

The fact that I feel unsatisfied with my lecture doesn’t mean I’m upset or mad – or even that it’s not good or even great. I want to do the best job possible for my students. Instead, I feel gracious for the opportunity to teach them each week, respected for the knowledge I provide them, and excited to do it all over again six days later.

You can always make changes to achieve (or at least get closer to a level of) satisfaction. If you’re happy at work because of the type of responsibilities and amount on your plate, yet are underappreciated, that leads to an emotion tied to disrespect. A new job could fix that unhappiness, but also may not.

I’ve written about certainty in the past — there are no guarantees. So even when you look at the grass being greener on the other side, once you get there it might not be as green as you thought it would be.

You must carefully assess the risks involved; however, this should not deter you from embracing and running towards them. Balancing caution with the willingness to take calculated risks is the key to growth and progress. That’s the difference between satisfaction for complacency reasons and satisfaction for it truly is enough – or good enough.

As I lined up to take my 10-foot putt, I thought about how it would feel to sink the second shot for a birdie. I didn’t make the putt but was able to tap in for par, which left me completely satisfied with my performance.

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