I just reread Siddharta, the beautiful novel by Herman Hesse, published in 1923. The main character searches for the meaning of life in a wide variety of ways: by living as an ascetic, by indulging himself in alcohol and sex, by trying to understand great teachers (never following them), by listening to the wisdom of a river. In the end he concludes that every experience in his life was necessary to truly see that everything is connected and that everything is exactly right as it is.

The latter insight reminded me of Life is good, the phrase with which Marshall Goldsmith, the most prominent leadership coach in the world, always signs off his emails. I tend to agree with Goldsmith and Siddharta that life is good and I often actually deeply experience it that way.

But.

I am also convinced that dissatisfaction with life as it is can lead to great things. Entrepreneurs, CEOs and inventors often come up with new ideas, projects and initiatives because they experience a discontent with things as they are. That discontent is a great driver for innovation and change.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”, American author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. Apparently I don’t have a first-rate intelligence. I cannot reconcile the opposing ideas of experiencing that life is good on the one hand and the positive drive that comes from discontent on the other hand.

Can you?

6 Comments
  1. Aad Goudappel 3 weeks ago

    Life is good because there are incentives, one of them being discontent, to improve or alter things. Fighting feelings of discontent, arguing they shouldn’t be part of a Good Life, only adds to the problem. Accepting them makes us lighter, more agile and brings us closer to the feeling that Life is indeed pretty Good! Not saying that’s easy though 😉

    • Author
      Twan van de Kerkhof 3 weeks ago

      Thanks Aad. I like your suggestion that experiencing discontent is not contradictory to ‘life is good’ but part of it.

  2. Gerard Van Rijnsoever 3 weeks ago

    I saw your tweet on this question. ‘Right as it is’ does not mean you do not have to act. We are creators, remember? We can transform things. Jaworski and Scharmer thought us. ‘Right as it is’ at that moment. Like ingredients for you to act or not to act. Scott Fitzgerald did not make it as a leader. He put the opposing ideas in characters while writing. Maybe that’s referring to that quote?

  3. Chantal Woltring 3 weeks ago

    Thank you, Twan, for your inviting question. I tend to agree with, Aad. Psychiatrist Dabrowski’s work with highly creative, sensitive people discovered that their creativity (the drive to create, life itself), seems to come again and again from within the tension felt between opposing values; both valued, felt simultaneously. Thus pointing us towards a ‘hidden’ dimension, sofar unknown. Its discovery and resulting emotional release, allows for a deeply satisfying experience, resulting in a more complex and accurate experience of life. This feels good, until at some point newer tensions emerge. So the one is the impetus for the other. The good life needs it’s discomforts to sustain it, all the while ‘positively disintegrating’ towards a reintegration on a more complex and expanding level. From the tiniest microbes to the universe as a whole. From a single person, to business organisations large and small and to societies. Key is to learn to stand the uncertainty and ambiguity as long as possible. A need for many an executive to learn: letting go of control, allowing positive desintegration so self organising is enabled.

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