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Why We Need to Stop Chasing Success and Start Enjoying the Little Things in Life

The philosopher Alan Watts always said that life is like a song, and the sole purpose of the song is to dance.

He said that when we listen to a song, we don’t dance with the goal of getting to the end of the music. We dance to enjoy it.

This isn’t always how we live our lives. Instead, we rush through our moments, thinking there’s always something better, there’s always some goal we need to achieve. This is my journey through a song without the dance and the lessons I’ve learned, from Alan Watts, along the way.

“Existence is meant to be fun. It doesn't go anywhere it just is.”

I sat in my car, fixated on my hands. Hot tears welled in my eyes and slowly streamed down my cheeks. I lost focus of the very thing that held the answer to my problem.

I remember thinking about how my nails grow on their own, how my hair grows and my heart beats, and the tears fall. All without effort or pain, these things happen. They’re effortless. Why was life so difficult?

At twenty-two, my goal was to be successful. I wanted to be someone—to have more and be more than I thought I was. I needed to justify something to the world, but I didn’t know what I was trying to prove.

I was a mother at eighteen years old, it was a setback but never a regret. Even so, I felt judged. At twenty-three I had my second daughter. I was a wife with two kids and a low paying job.

I had a loving husband and two beautiful kids, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted more. In the quest for more, I traded my time for a particular brand of success. The kind of success that you can only achieve through money and status. Something precious for something I felt would give me vindication from society.

“The whole point of dancing is the dance.”

When I was twenty-eight, I had done all the things society tells us to do. I went to college, I got a high paying job, and I was climbing my way to the top. I was lucky, but it didn’t feel that way. The goal was to have everything and make it look effortless. Except it wasn’t effortless, and nothing came easy. I had missed the point; I’d played the song but I didn’t dance.

“You live life by analogy, a journey with a pilgrimage to get to the end success, heaven, whatever. You missed the point, you were supposed to dance.”

I became a government contractor, far from a dream but it brought success. Maybe you became an insurance salesman or a real estate agent. Like me, you work hard every day. You get up and go through the routine that you know will make you successful. You work harder and longer hours because you know that if you just keep working, success will come.

Then you turn forty. You’re exhausted. Life has taken its toll, but you’ve made it. You’re successful. This existence is what you worked for, it’s everything your ego wanted, and you did it. You traded the precious moments for eighty-hour work weeks, but you did it. Now you can dance. Now life can start.

You look around at your beautiful home and your expensive cars. There comes the point when you realize that the cars and the house don’t feel the way you imagined they would. These are symbols of your success. Your ego needed them, but your heart needed something far more valuable.

“I must survive means you are not playing.”

Perhaps your story isn’t like mine, and at forty you’re still working a dead end job, working to pay the bills. Wishing you had more time with the ones you love. I know it’s not easy. To compare my story to yours would be missing the point of the message.

The point is, no matter how far you get or how hard you work you will always want to get to the next level. Sure material things bring comfort, but they don’t bring happiness. You will always be where you are in your heart until you realize that life isn’t about material possessions.

Our lives are not about things and status. Even though we’ve made ourselves miserable with wanting, we already have everything we need. Life is meant to be lived. If you can’t quit your job tomorrow, enjoy where you are. Focus on the best parts of every day. Believe that everything you do has a purpose and a place in the world.

Happiness comes from gratitude. You’re alive, you have people to miss when you go to work, and you get to see them smile every day. We all have to do things we don’t want to do; we have to survive. When you find yourself working for things that don’t matter like a big house or a fancy car, when you could be living, you’ve missed the point. You’re playing the song but you’re not dancing.

“A song isn't just the ending. It's not just the goal of finishing the song. The song is an experience.”

I remember going to school at night when I could have been home with my daughters. My little girls cried at the door as I left them. I tried to reason with myself. I was doing all of this for them.

I wanted my daughters to be proud of their mother. I was setting a good example. Their mother was going to be someone, for them. As I turned my back on them, I cried too. I hated that I had to leave.

In truth, I made a choice to leave them. Everything we do in life is a choice that we've made. Telling ourselves that we don't have a choice is the biggest lie of them all.

I made excuses and created a hero version of myself that was doing it all for my family. My daughters didn’t need status. I needed that. All they needed was me. Some days the tears were flowing so much I couldn’t drive, so I sat in my car and I fixated on my hands. I wondered why my nails had it so easy.

I was so close to understanding that growth is all we have to do. There's no effort in growing or dying. These things are inevitable. We make it difficult because we choose to.

My hair grew, and my heart beat without effort or understanding. These seemingly simple things understood a lot more about life than I did as a whole person.

All I had to do was be, exist, experience, love, and have gratitude, but I didn’t. My struggle went on for years. It was far from the picturesque life I was trying to achieve. I chose to do it anyway.

“Try to sleep, and you can't sleep. You've got to let go. If you don't, you'll constantly try and keep yourself wound up.”

I think about my struggle for success, working during the day and going to school at night. Missing my husband and my kids, I thought someday this would all get easier. When I think back on that time in my life I never wish I had worked harder.

I wish I had more memories with my family.

Now I have everything I wanted back then, but it doesn’t feel like you’d think it would feel. What was I expecting? I didn’t feel any different than I always felt, except that I had a corner office, a fancier house, and nicer clothes.

An ideally located office—this is what it all came down to in the end? It's very anticlimactic when the new car smell wears off, and all you have is a large payment and more hours at work.

We all think that when we’re at the top, everything should be amazing, but it’s not. Your children have grown older, and you don’t remember the little things.

“…tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live.”

You feel cheated of your time, cheated by time. Now you have to make up for it. You have to live, make the most of what you have left. So you set another goal.

This time you’ll build memories and see places, do things you never got the chance to do. The list grows, and you wonder how you'll get it all done and still make your large mortgage payment. You work more hours so you can do all this stuff “someday.” You’ve overwhelmed yourself again.

You’re missing the point.

Stop wanting more, be grateful for today. Live in the moment. Cherish your life and the time you have in this world. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t meant to; let it go.

“We think if we don't interfere it won't happen.”

There’s always an expectation, always something that has to get done. You pushed aside living so that you could live up to an expectation that doesn't exist to anyone but you. The expectation is always there because you gave it power. To live, you’ve got to let it go.

You save all your money so that you can retire. You live to retire. Then you get old, and you’re too tired to live up to the expectation you had of retirement; you never realize your dreams.

At forty you felt cheated, at eighty you are cheated. You cheated yourself the whole way through to the end.

“Your purpose was to dance until the end, but you were so focused on the end that you forgot to dance.”

I quit my job at forty, I worked too much and I never got the chance to live. I don’t have a powerful positon. I have a job with less stress. I’m not holding the weight of the company on my shoulders. I also make a lot less money.

I can work fewer hours and live with less stuff, but I'll never get back what I've lost. Money, fancy cars, and a big house will never give back my time. The moments, the little things live in the past, they're gone.

“Life should be easy and fun, effortless, but we rarely let it be what it is.”

We’re always striving for more, never satisfied with where we are. More is always better. Happiness and fulfillment are always just out of reach. When we’re growing up, we strive to finish high school. Then the goal is college, then grad school. We have a family, and we live through the challenges of life, but we never stop to realize the grace in each moment. We never dance.

Gratitude for life itself is still ahead of me. The song is still playing, and it’s never too late to live in the present and enjoy the dance.

About Mercy Torres

Mercy Torres is a long-time entrepreneur and a self-taught web and graphic designer with a graduate degree in Government and Business and an undergraduate in Computer Science. She believes that mindset is the key to happiness and success in business and in life and she has dedicated her time to sending that message into the world at artisticdestiny.com

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  • Annemarija Linka

    Really enjoyed this post. I especially like the life comparison with a song. Thank you for sharing!

  • Elaine

    Really true good reading advice. Time sure does fly and listen to music and not just want the end of the song. Too busy working and putting off enjoying each hour and day until retirement. Just hope too when You get older to retire that your health is good. Years of working and not caring about nutritional food is not good. Hurry up starting out the day with just coffee and then grab a quick fast sandwich food item most days takes a toll on the body. Your mind too and body. Take time to have more nutritious meals to continue having good health at any age. Thank You and keep enjoying music and dance
    now:)

  • Tia

    Simply beautiful! I can totally relate to this. I used to work as a paralegal for a big law firm where I made a lot of money. I wasn’t happy with my job at all. Everything was chaotic and management simply didn’t care about the employees. I wanted something more meaningful and rewarding. To be honest I wasn’t interested in law to start with. I just needed the money to pay the bills and do the things that I wanted to do like travel and explore new places. Whenever I would arrive back home from spending a few days in a new destination I would cry like a baby because I knew I had to go back to work the next day. Last year I was laid off from my job and I finally feel free. Five years of working in the legal field with the purpose of making more money but not having a drop of passion for what I did. I felt so stifled and frustrated. Now I know that I want to do something with a purpose. I don’t know what God has planned for me but everyday I tell myself that I have to be honest with doing something that I will enjoy and in return help others in a positive way.

  • Miyoko

    The most beautiful post I ever had. I’m 28 and totally get your point and had been through some of your experience 🙂 thank you so much for this, keep on dancing with awareness and enjoy!

  • Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m happy you could relate to the message!

  • I will never forget the feeling of fear and relief all wrapped into one when I quit my job. I always come back to this when I’m afraid and want to revert back to the security of my former life. I’m glad you could find freedom in what most people see as a setback, it shows you have a very strong mindset. It’s scary to start over but always remember the feeling of freedom you had when you left your job. That will help you keep moving forward in the direction you were meant to go.

  • Very true, not taking care of your body affects you just as much as neglecting your mind. Awareness of mindset and how we treat ourselves and our bodies are very important to staying happy.

  • Amy

    Mercy, This message was so beautifully written. I look back and feel sad for the time I wasted, but there are good memories, too. Now, I just want to enjoy the moment if I can. Thank you for such a good reminder of how life can be ment to live.

  • Kylie Anderson

    Thank you for this article, this is how I am feeling. I am 42 years of age and for 9 and bit years working in healthcare, and feel a change. So much more to life then working a job that you are not passionate about and seeking happiness to enjoy life is so important 🙂

  • suemenow

    This is the “American Dream.” But it is often just sleep walking, running or even dragging ourselves through a nightmare…that we are sold by a capitalistic culture…that feeds on us by over stimulating our basic desires.

  • suemenow

    I would not allow myself to caught up in rat race, although I longed for a beautiful suit and some “personal power”. My sister thought I was a loser and would laughed when I told she was trading her loves for security and that I actually had a nice little life. But I never had the respect of the family. When my was dying and I was by her side for months and years that lead up to it, my mom realized who I was. I played her videos of songs and chants of peace and magic. I let her know I prayed long stints, every day for and late husband. Before my mom’s last trip to the hospital, she said, “Go, be free and teach. I’m so proud of you.”

  • I could not agree more. It’s not always as simple as walking out of a job you’ve had for years but if the feeling is there everyday, the change is worth it.

  • Yes, it’s what we learn at a young age. Go to school, get a job, buy a house, make a lot of money but it’s our choice to adopt the dream we are given or to create our own. The difficult part is dealing with the outside world when we aren’t what they think we should be. It takes a lot of courage.

  • People reject what they don’t understand and in order to go against the grain to realize our own happiness we must make peace with that. I’m glad you could share these special moments with your mother.

  • Thank you so much Amy. I agree, life is never wasted. Everything I’ve been through has brought me to where I am and I will always be grateful for it. I’ve learned lessons and gained experience that have made me who I am. You’re right, I enjoy the good moments so much more having had the difficult ones.

  • Thank you Mercy – your words bring us to the wordless riches inhabiting this moment, now!

  • very nice! Really we need to focus on little things rather than big one

  • Sara

    Thank you for your honest post, Mercy.
    I’m on the other side of the spectrum…I had 3 children between the ages of 20-25 and had all the same ambitions as you but I never followed through with them. I’m now 38 and spent the better part of the last 18 years thinking should I, shouldn’t I follow my dreams. I dabbled in a few things but the call of my children or my husband’s need for support in his business always won out and a part of me still wonders, what if?
    I guess in life, for every choice there is a price to pay. In your case, you say you missed out on moments you’ll never have back but what I see is someone who isnt left with the question hanging, what if? I guess no matter what we do, there’s some form of regret. We can’t be everything to everyone including ourselves…something or someone is always sacrificed by our choices and all we can do is try to make the best decision at the time. The real joy in life is found in being at peace with yourself and compassionate towards yourself for the choices you’ve made in the past and in looking forwards not backwards. I’m sure for all you regret you have much to be proud of. Good on you for listening to your inner voice that propelled you to achieve certain things and for being mature enough to change course when that changed for you.

  • sian e lewis

    As someone once said ‘Life is for living’ or another ‘to travel hopefully is better than to arrive’

  • Yes, I think about this sometimes, the what if question. I have helped my husband build several businesses as well. I felt more satisfaction in doing that than I did in chasing materialism as I did for so many years. Looking back I would have chosen my family.

    I understand what you’re saying, you put your family above yourself, you are a hero as far as I’m concerned. I chose materialism over my dreams and I told myself that it was for the good of my family. Realizing this has made me appreciate my family and my life so much more. Thank you Sara, here’s to moving forward!

  • Jennifer Pittman

    Rarely do I comment on any site , however the tears that fell from my eyes while reading moved me . Will be forty three years old in another month and this hit home . Truly grateful and appreciative for your words of wisdom and life experiences !!!
    Sincerely,
    Jennifer Maddox

  • Rajveer Malhotra

    Hi Mercy, I am really happy to read, whatever you wrote is amazingly true. This has given me a boost to achieve my goals and live my dreams with #Joy #fun and off course !!! I’ll remember to Dance!!!

  • Tangy

    Hi Mercy, I truly understand and I can relate to your message. I worked hard in my twenties by striving and doing everything that I thought would make me happy. By living my life based upon how I was taught to believe. But nothing that I achieved fulfilled me. Not the nice cars or houses. I felt burnt out and no longer enjoyed what I did for a living. Even though my career choice was something that I always knew I would be doing. I wanted to quit and perhaps join the peace corps. But, I came across a book that would help change my life by changing my mindset. It was think and grow rich. Since reading that book i was attracted to reading thousands of articles on the LOA, quantum physics and spirituality. I listened to thousands of hours of videos on youtube and read numerous books on spirituality such as books by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve also listened to numerous lectures by Alan Watts. I’m now in my early forties and I have done so much since changing my mindset in my late twenties. I travel the world, I consider myself to be such an adventurous person and anything that I want to try I do it. I enjoy just being and simply connecting to the deeper life energy that runs through me. I’m so appreciative for where I’m at in life and for all that I have. When you truly do change the way you look at things the world truly does change.

  • Angie Aucoin

    Mercy,

    This was so beautifully written and touched my heart. I can relate but in a different way. I choose a different path in my young life. I had my first child at 20 and my fifth child at 27. I stayed at home and took care of my children and husband. Now at 44, my children are almost all adults with my youngest almost 17, I am not as needed to take care of everyone. I have been having regrets about not having that career that so many women go out an get but understood at a young age that choices cost something. I chose to enjoy the little things and make my children’s lives my focus but even in this, you can lose yourself. I am now at an impasse in deciding what to do now. I have hobbies and things that I enjoy. Reading this reminding me to just enjoy the day and whatever it holds. Thank you!

  • Asep Ramadhani

    God has created nature and its richness in it to balance the life cycle of the occupants or employees of humans and animals have all been in fungtionalty each”” but if we don’t there is concern to fellow nature will angry so we as people who know the meaning of unfamiliarity will education should be more concerned with the other in neighborhood

  • Wow! The underlying thought is “live every moment of your life with happiness”, and you presented it with such a awesome way that it made me think so much about my life. Like most of us, i am also chasing success, and i think i am doing it for my son and my family. But, you are right, we all are doing this to feed our ego and greed. It’s something we want, not our family demands from us.
    And, in my case, i have left with no other option but to chase it with full pace. I was a stutter, though still i am but now it’s not chronic like before. So i never landed up a job, my confidence was almost nill and had poor self-image. Now i am married and just become a father of a baby boy this august. I will turn 30 soon, yet i don’t have a stable career.
    That haunts me, how will i be able to make up to their expectations, will i be able to give them all the luxuries. These are the only thoughts i can think of, and i this mess i have forgot to live my life. Music is definitely playing, but i am not able to dance. And, after i read this post i realised that after some years, these things won’t matter at all. What i have is “present” and i have to live it with happiness and peace. It’s time i should catch the beat and set me free and dance on every beat of it.

  • Great points, especially about being grateful!

  • LJ

    Thanks for sharing. Valuable insights.

  • Satish Kadu

    What you’ve said is so true, but it’d be interesting to hear this perspective from those who only chose to take life easy but in the process missed out accomplishing their professional potential. Such people feel miserable too when they compare themselves with their peers. Maybe the key lies in realizing that you just got to be yourself than live someone else’s life and you got to figure out what makes you happy. Grass always looks greener on the other side, if you compare.

  • Margaret

    I chose to take it easy and not live up to my professional potential. I never regret it, sure I sometimes think it would be nice to have a boat, in reality though it would soon feel like a burden to me.