One weekend last year, the kids and I decided to go to a movie, then roller skate. We were excited by the plan and chatted happily during the car ride. But the movie upset my 7-year-old, with animals killing each other for survival (G-rated! What were they thinking?), and when the skating rink turned out to be closed, she burst into tears. “I didn’t like the movie and now I can’t even skate! Now I’ll never have fun!”
I immediately was flooded with feelings. First, of course, I felt like the world’s worst dad. Second, I struggled not to laugh – I mean, come on, drama queen! Third, I noted that she was tired and that we should shoot for an early bedtime.
Then I thought how this was a fine case study in how the way we approach the world determines our experience: how our attitude quite literally creates the world. My little one started with pure excitement, but soon fixated on her expectations. It was no longer enough to enjoy the afternoon. The day would be judged against specific needs and inevitably be found wanting. Rather than flow with events as they unfolded, she convinced herself that she needed a specific outcome, and ended unhappy.
Meanwhile, my 11-year-old and I changed our plans. We bowled instead and joked about the clumsy movie, and I didn’t have to worry about my problematic ankle as I would have if we’d skated. Two of us had a great afternoon. The third remained pouty.
I am very results-oriented in business and in life. I always have a plan and several alternatives. Things don’t get done if you don’t set goals and build plans. Still, I learned young that what I plan won’t happen. Something different and probably better will. So one needs to remain willing to re-examine goals (“having fun together” vs “ice skate”) and flexible with tactics.
Joy comes from approaching the world with open acceptance, not fixating on some object of desire. Desire itself is wonderful, an expression of intense engagement with the universe. But when desire locks on an object, that object becomes a trap: either you get what you want and find it insufficient, or you don’t and feel frustrated. But if you remain open, while working to achieve one wonderful outcome, likely you will stumble into another wonderful one.
It’s an economics problem of supply and demand. The universe can supply anything from inexhaustible abundancy to impoverished scarcity. If, instead of demanding things to be a certain way, we accept what we are given with gratitude, we find an abundant universe. But when we cling to expectations, we find insufficiency.
We usually think of the word want as synonymous with to desire, but they are different. Some of the definitions of want: lacking, deficiency, privation…Wanting is the mindset of poverty. Acceptance is the mindset of richness.
Supply and demand can never be in equilibrium when we focus on what we lack. It is always balanced when we enjoy what we have. And balance is the goal.
We cannot control what we receive, but we can work with how we receive. We can protest that the movie was scary and that the rink was closed, or we can say “Well that was interesting, thanks!”
This is a business blog, but I’m not going to draw the conclusions too tightly. I think the lessons of cultivating an abundance mentality will present themselves to business leaders if they are open, and not if they are not.
Now how to communicate all this to a 7-year-old?