1 Jul 2012

The Man With Too Much But Not Enough

The world had seen his brilliance, felt his presence. He had power, money and fame as one of the richest tycoons in the decade. He had a beautiful loyal wife with lovely children. He had gained so much... almost too much some complain. 

And yet, he feels that he does not have enough.

What was he missing? Thomas pondered as he stared past the full glass window panes into the distance, admiring the hustle of tiny car lights zipping along roads. The pitch darkness of the night made the dance of the car fireflies even more mesmerizing. They did have to go home since their shifts are over. They have their own commitments back at home, shows to catch up on, sleep to catch up on, families to catch up on...

Is that what I'm neglecting? Thomas frowned in thought. He had all the material wealth that'd turn a crowd envious, but maybe he wasn't rich enough in the family love department. I've been away from home most of the time, so I hardly interact with my wife and kids, not to mention I haven't seen my other relatives in a while. Perhaps I should make up for that. 

And with the newly seeded plan in his head, Thomas finally exited his exquisite private office and was the last to leave the 50-floor headquarters building.

The next day, Thomas announced that he'd be taking a 2 week vacation break, as well as cutting back on his subsequent work hours, stating "personal reasons", and voluntarily taking up pay cuts. He didn't care much, since money was very hardly an issue for a billionaire like him any more. Besides, the suits he wore to work daily felt heavier than before, and it'd be refreshing to don normal clothes more often. 

Over time his situation improved: the children became more comfortable with sharing stuff in school with their father instead of the usual "you're too tired and distracted to care" obstacle, the wife managed to rekindle a spark in their romantic relationship, and Thomas' parents and cousins finally met up for the first time in a few years. Conversations were aplenty, laughter ensued, and Thomas felt a growing warmth inside him. The man who waded in cold hard cash had regained some soul.

Yet he didn't feel content. Some part of him still yearned to be filled. If it wasn't wealth or love, what else? 

"Maybe you should do some charitable acts," his wife casually suggested as the couple lay in bed one night. "After all our family's certainly got enough wealth to last more than a few generations, so why not devote a portion of our extra money to good use?" And why not? Maybe Thomas wanted to feel that he made a huge difference not just to those close to him, but also to other strangers in need. That may just get the extra public approval he desired.

So over the course of many months, Thomas set out to scout for different needy groups to donate money and resources to, including schools, hospitals, foster homes, organisations sending aid to diseased/poverty-stricken areas... the list grew, and so did his reputation for charitable work. Now he appeared on magazine covers for not just his wealth but also for his benevolent actions. And he genuinely enjoyed that. 

Still, he didn't feel complete. A hole in his heart refused to go away, demanding to be filled up. But with what? His life is already pretty much the ideal model that the average man has of a dream life. Then how could he feel unsatisfied?

Over a weekend lunch with a few friends at a renowned five-star French restaurant, Thomas consulted them with regards to his predicament. One of them pondered for a while and replied, "You know, so far you've been only doing things that either you know will gain you benefit in the future, or you know people think you should do. How about doing some stuff that you want to do? Even if it seems absolutely crazy or useless?" 

Could this be it? Am I just wanting to fulfill my own personal wishes because I've been putting them off for too long? 

So Thomas went back into his mansion, retired into a study room, and just started writing down on a piece of paper: he was listing out all the things that he thought of achieving at different points in his life, but has yet to accomplish(within reasonable conditions of course). The list turned out way longer than expected: learn to skateboard, skydive off a plane, try out poker, run a 24km marathon, take on some cooking recipes... It would take a long time.

And so his quest to clear his list of undone tasks went on, filled with some adrenalin-pumping moments, some instances of hilarity and laughter, and most of the time a positive sense of accomplishment. Over the progress of the quest, he also noticed some changes: he felt more optimistic, he tired less easily, and he seemed to gain a healthy glow. Training for the marathon did do wonders, among many other things he did. And the paparazzi had clear records of all the crazy things he did, to the delight of magazine readers.

Frustratingly, Thomas still could not feel content. He was already very satisfied and happy with the turn of events that occurred for the better, but something's still telling him there's more to be done, more to gain, more to discover. What is he missing? Why did others reach contentment but he couldn't?

The problem clung onto him like a parasite; on the outside he was more cheerful and positively infectious than before his revelation, but on the inside the void persisted, waiting for a filler. Each day he kept thinking: what am I doing wrong? Why do I still keep wanting more? Is something wrong with my mind?

Finally he went back to his parents' house alone. His wife couldn't give an answer. His friends were stumped on how to "cure" him. Thomas figured he might as well rely on parents' wisdom.

Only his mother was in, since the father was out with some friends at a Bingo party. Luckily she was more than willing to lend her ears. For a long time she listened intently to Thomas, nodding along in her cushion chair and occasionally revealing a smile that expressed understanding and concern. When he was done, she looked at the ceiling for a moment, then responded:

"I don't know. And frankly, I don't think you should worry!"

Expectedly stunned, Thomas returned a quizzical look. She continued:

"I think your thirst for more in your life is perfectly natural. You shouldn't bother with trying to extinguish it completely, but instead try to embrace it. People want answers, they go look for it. People want things to be done, they go do it. People want a certain event to happen, they do as much as they can to make it possible. If we were all so easily satisfied with what we have, how would we have the scientists who, through their pursuit of knowledge, made breakthrough discoveries that benefited everybody? How would you have the humanitarian activists who constantly help to better the lives of less fortunate people? How would you..." – pointing a finger at Thomas – "...my son, have become so successful not just in wealth but also in taking care of a wonderful family, and also in giving back to society, if it weren't for your desire to do more? 

"Your thirst has brought you to greater heights, and benefited others around you as well. It even added extra spices in your life! It has served you well for so many years, so you might as well make the best of it, as long as you don't abuse it!" 

And just like that she got up and went to the big balcony garden to water her plants, as though nothing extraordinary just happened. But to Thomas, suddenly all had changed. He no longer felt weighted down by the constant wants, but now treated his desires as compasses pointing to new opportunities. He thought by satisfying his own wants it'd be enough, but now he knew that with proper control these same wants can lead towards fresh discoveries and exciting possibilities. New people to meet, new things to learn, new problems to solve... his life had renewed itself into an adventure.

Making the most of life wasn't just about getting enough of stuff, be it physical or intangible; it was also about looking forward to the unknown things out there that could blow away our minds or benefit us. The joy in life wasn't in just the getting or doing, but also in the process of the getting and doing.

And so the man who had too much but not enough, became a man who knew he never had enough, but now enjoyed the pursuit of getting more rather than the end result.