Are You Satisfied? (That May Not Be Enough)

Jason Fried: Are you satisfied?
Jason Fried

Jason Fried of the software company 37 Signals once posted a tweet, saying how sad it is when business surveys set “satisfied” as their highest metric for success on a customer survey.

What a  “low bar,” he lamented.

I’m inclined to agree. But not just for business. For life and everything we do.

What an indictment this is. Against our malaise, our work, and our lives. How often do we give up when we should persevere? How often to we opt out and say “no” when life gets a little tough? How often do we settle for mere satisfaction when truly abundant life awaits us?

Certainly, we can do better than just “satisfied” — right?

Satisfaction is keeping us from our best work

I believe it was Steven Pressfield who said in an interview that if you do something long enough, if you get serious about any craft (including writing), there comes a time when it begins to “kick your ass.”

When you break down and cry, because it’s just so hard, that’s a great place to be. Because you’re beginning to treat your work with care. You’re beginning to act like a professional.

This is when the real work begins. When you feel anything but satisfied and just want to give up. This is your first step towards mastery.

Having a little discontent is good. It’s okay to be unsettled, to want more, to strive for the seemingly unattainable. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, the place where faith is required, and how true artists spend their whole lives.

Don’t avoid the dissatisfaction. Live in it. Move through it. Keep wanting more.

The other extreme

Of course, there is the other side of the spectrum — the life of the perfectionist. Where nothing ever feels good enough, when no one could ever please you, when your desires are unreasonable and your appetite insatiable.

Make no mistake: that’s no way to live.

The “George Bailey” way of looking at the world, of questioning your significance, is not good for anyone. Because your life is probably better than you think. You have more of an opportunity to make an impact than you realize. The trick is to do something with it.

Don’t just wallow. Work towards something that matters. Leave a legacy.

Our choice to give in to mere satisfaction or press into a more inspiring life is just that: a choice. It hinges on our ability to see beyond our own myopia, believe our lives have purpose, and do something that makes a difference

If you do this, we all win. Because the whole world benefits when you give it a gift. And what is that gift? YOU. The whole messy thing. No cut corners. No mere satisfaction. All of you.

This applies to everything

When you are satisfied, your work suffers. So do your relationships and craft. Because “satisfaction” is just another word for status quo.

And no one ever speaks up when things are good enough.

Make no mistake: “good enough” will always erode people’s confidence. It will lead to divorce, losing all your clients, and a legacy no one remembers. Sure, nobody will complain now, but trust me: little by little, you’re losing this fight.

If you’re going to do epic stuff, don’t wait till people complain before you change things. Then, it’s too late. You’ve already lost.

Always be pushing. Always be tweaking. And always be obsessing over making something better.

This doesn’t mean you don’t ship. You still have to put something out there. You still have to hit publish and release your work into the world.

But it means the things you build, the words you write, the work you do, better not suck. This is the stuff of weirdos, how the “crazy ones” live their lives, and the only way you ever have a hope of doing something that matters.

So, how’s your business? Your marriage? Your work? Your life? Are you satisfied? That’s not enough. It never was.

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

—C.S. Lewis

42 thoughts on “Are You Satisfied? (That May Not Be Enough)

  1. great insight!

    if we can do better than “satisfied” then mere satisfaction would be more like mediocrity and who wants that, right?

    1. yep. I realize it’s a fine line between this and never feeling like your work is good enough, but that’s not my point. My hope is this pushes us just a little further to create stuff we can be proud of (while still being content with ourselves and what we’re able to do). 🙂

    1. Good thought. No one ever expects to fail when they ship, or hopes to. But, that’s really the goal: ship, learn, revise, ship again. Shipping once hoping for the big hit and then giving up if things fizzle is no way to live.

      1. interesting thought about expectations. i’m not sure what i expect when i ship, but it’s certainly not to succeed. i hope i don’t fail, but i honestly don’t know. i ship because i have to, not because i’m fixated on results.

        1. I like that Jeff. Win or lose, succeed or fail, we’re compelled to show up, produce, do our respective best. But, that is a step of maturity is understanding and managing expectations. There was a point in time that anything short of winning sent me into a tailspin. Even incremental wins were never celebrated because there was an even “bigger” game next week. Good thoughts Jeremy. Thx Jeff.

  2. Surveys should have an ecstatic option! How would your employees feel if you came back to them and told them they got three ecstatics on recent surveys. Let’s make this happen.

  3. I tend to focus too much on my discontentedness. Maybe I’m a perfectionist at heart; I’m not sure. But I really like the point you make here and hopefully I’ll take it to heart today.

    1. At some point, this all becomes semantics. I hear what you’re saying, Garry. (I think.) The answer is yes. I believe you can always be striving for better while appreciating where you’re at. The real challenge is enjoying the journey.

      1. Thanks Jeff. I agree. I sensed such a strong push in this for striving almost at the expense of enjoying. Balancing it is a challenge, no doubt.

        As is the difficult tension you presented here between striving for better than “satisfied” and, at the same time, countering the perfectionism. Either end of the spectrum is deadly. That fine line ‘tween the two moves and often takes being okay with not knowing where it falls … and ship anyway.

  4. Scripture actually came to my mind while reading this, specifically how Paul talked about how he hadn’t achieved perfection but kept striving and fighting towards the prize.
    Like you said, discontent can be a good thing. It shows that we’ve set the bar high enough to matter.

    1. Right. This, admittedly, is a fine line. I was concerned people might misinterpret. But if you’re not a little funny about this stuff — a little obsessed and striving for perfection — then you’re probably settling.

  5. Great stuff.  I have this over-rehearsed line I use in speaking engagement where I say, “What you are truly looking for is contentment, fulfillment, and satisfaction…”  Thanks for challenging this bar Jeff.  Guess it’s time to get back to the drawing board to find words and content that will “kick my ass!”  Thanks for your contribution and voice.

  6. I’ve always considered satisfactory as average.  Who wants to be ‘average’?  If that’s ok with you fine, but being stuck in the middle of the pack isn’t exactly going to change the world… any world, even your own.

  7. This is tough. I want to leave my readers with a WOW, but I know not everything will. I feel the pressure of shipping each day, so I ship what I’m satisfied with and not wowed by. Is there a balance here when profecting your craft? 

  8. Jeff, your post is so timely for me.  Like a kid on a bike, I’m finding my balance in this.  Some days I’m leaning too far to one side or the other, but I’m seeing that the only way to get better is to keep getting on the bike.

  9. I bought the book and just started reading it, from what I’ve read so far, I highly recommend it, especially if you want to take your writing seriously! To answer the question, no I’m not satisfied and I AM working on making my writing better, making my relationship with my wife more real and training my children in the way of the Lord! (It’s a start)

  10. I appreciate this post.

    It makes me think.

    I was thought the word “satisfied” was a good description, and I place I want to be.  As opposed to discontent.

    Thank you for helping me to look at it, in a different way.

  11. Thank you. That was so good for me right now. Sometimes I do feel weird. Love the balance w/perfectionism. Well said and a fantastic exhortation to live life fully and passionately. 

  12. Balancing the need to ship and put our work out there without it being perfect and the need to not suck can sometimes be difficult, but it’s about doing the best we possibly can. Nothing in life worth getting is every truly easy. Great post, Jeff. 

  13. Excellent post. My girlfriend shared this with me and I agree wholeheartedly. Though honestly, I’m nowhere near satisfied at the moment, so even getting there once for just a week or two would be a welcome relief!

    It reminded me of Joe Connelly. I’m reading Bringing Out the Dead, his first novel which was a great success, and I knew he’d written another but wasn’t sure beyond that. Apparently in 2005 he wrote Crumbtown which was panned by both critics and readers, and I guess he hasn’t written anything else since. What a shame since his first book was so brilliant. I wonder whether BOtD made him a bit complacent and that affected Crumbtown, or whether he just gave up after Crumbtown because he was discouraged. Either way I’m frustrated because clearly the guy had potential. One hit and one dud is no place to stop.

  14. This post is very helpful. I feel like I break down into tears, hard, once every 2 weeks or so, and especially when I am learning about how to improve. I just want my business to successfully help people be healthier, and it seems I am always wanting more and more people to help and rarely feel satisfied with my reach! It’s good to be reminded that this feeling can actually be a good thing, I am not settling with satisfied. I am working towards world domination in the health field. Something like world peace? Ha. Thanks Jeff!

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