The great fable of “the more” goes something like this: the more you get your hands on, the more you will have. Unfortunately, though, what happens is that the more you have, the more you believe you deserve, and the more you believe you deserve, the more you want. More of this and more of that. Once caught up in the hypnosis of competing for more, you will never be satisfied with what you currently have. This is how it was for me in my earlier days.

My first truly fancy home was an excellent example of this. It was an all-glass contemporary perched over the fourth green of an exclusive country club, with sparkling views of lush fairways and of the ocean beyond. When I was younger, I had been in a number of fancy homes and always admired them; they were a symbol of what I then perceived as one of the greatest proofs of “arrival.”

However, when I arrived and purchased my own symbol, I found nothing but intrusion. There was always the bother of a non-family member in or around the house: a daily maid, three weekly gardeners, a pest-control man, tree men, a pool man, electricians, etc. Did the place look great? Yes. Did visitors usually say, “What a lovely house!”? Yes. Did it offer me contentment, security, privacy, and quiet? Not at all.

That “the more” is actually more is one of the great deceptions of the mind. But “the more” no longer works for me; neither, I believe, does it really work for others.

A buccaneer of business rarely perceives his golden bracelets as handcuffs and his house as just another tent in the big-tent competition. How could he? For if he understood their essential neutrality and basic meaninglessness, then what he did to get them would cease to have meaning as well.

Yet what would he do if he stopped striving for the more? Who would he be if he did not run and fight and win and outgain? Unable to face the thought that his existence so far has been senseless, he fears the loss of wanting as though it were a loss of self. Yet, as intimidating as that may sound, he must ask himself whether “the more” is actually more or whether it is merely like an appetite that grows as it is fed.

If you seek a high-profile wealth-larded life and place that goal before personal growth, you will get exactly what you seek, which means you lose even when you seem to gain. Like many, you may believe that to walk the aisles of any store able to purchase anything you see means freedom. Real freedom, however, is walking those aisles and not being taken in by the glitter of what you see. This doesn’t mean that you don’t buy things; it just means you no longer believe you cannot do without them. In effect, you sometimes like, but you no longer lust.

I used to play golf with a (now deceased) multi-multi-millionaire who after missing a shot often threw his club farther than he had hit his ball, cursing loudly as he did so. Was he truly successful? Clearly not. I had a father who did custodial work impeccably and with a dignitas unmatched in most corporate boardrooms. Was he successful? Absolutely.

Helping my father at work as a boy helped me learn later that the “what” of life is nothing more than the particular position you occupy at this moment. The “how” is your performance within that role. What is nothing; how is everything. The world states with certitude that title, position, and influence all have great meaning, yet in truth they are neutral: means, not ends. To be the best (banker, lawyer, father, mother, gravedigger, nurse) you can be at this moment, in this situation, is to fill a neutral form with content, to find the end you seek right here and right now.

This does not mean that you always do what you do perfectly. Neither does it suggest that you spend countless hours at it, or do not spend countless hours at it. Perhaps it is your present love. All it means is that you do your very best with what you have now.

Author's Bio: 

Robert E. Draper, went from growing up in a tough, impoverished Bronx neighborhood to the position of CEO of an NYSE company by the age of 35. His new book, The Other Side of Success … And All its Empty Promises, provides essential advice for businesspeople and anyone else looking to find true contentment in the face of life’s many ups and downs.

The Other Side of Success is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by order from your local book retailer.

© 2009 Robert E. Draper. This article may be reproduced only in its entirety.