My Neighbor’s Ox

Woonhuis aan Zee, courtesy of Het Nieuwe Instituut
Woonhuis aan Zee, courtesy of Het Nieuwe Instituut

As a young man, I confused goals with things. Given the messages found in popular culture, there’s little wonder why. I spent my days painting, and watched television during breaks. Somewhere in there, I ended up watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. (Something I’m reluctant to admit.)

By the time I started a design studio, I had adopted those ideas. I believed success meant a luxury home, sports car, and a company that showed off my business acumen. None of these things were actually important to me. I just liked working with ideas. Nevertheless, I let those beliefs to get so embedded that I blindly pursued them.

It took some time to dislodge these notions, and I’m unclear of when I rid myself of them. That said, my son’s arrival changed many of my beliefs. At the time, I was working grueling hours, and those old rewards didn’t motivate me any longer. Like so many new parents, I would have traded any thing for more time with him—and, later, his brother.

As the years passed, the beauty of a Porsche (and I admit, it is a gorgeous machine) became less compelling. I even took to sneering when I’d see luxury cars in my neighborhood. I work near the poorest postal code in Canada. The contrast of a fancy car parked next to a person who’d spent the last night sleeping in a box seemed terribly wrong.

I’ve been ambitious, and I like to see what I can make happen. I don’t think that will ever change. What has changed, is the way I measure success.

A big house isn’t such a big deal; I don’t want things to hold me in one place. A shiny car isn’t exciting; I prefer to commute by foot. Doing so affords me exercise and clears my mind. Building a big company, and being “important,” doesn’t hold much allure, either; I just enjoy doing interesting work I’m proud of.

My success now relates to simpler notions. I want to eat well and avoid stress. I take pleasure in good conversations with my friends and family. I like the idea of seeing how far I can travel by foot. (Lately, I’ve found the notion of completing an ultramarathon intoxicating.)

I know who I am, and don’t shift much from this. On a run this weekend, though, my convictions wavered. I passed by a friend’s home. He’s worked hard and done well for himself. Oddly, I didn’t experience mudita for him. Instead, I was jealous.

His architect-designed house, his lovely car, and his recognition in the community were all things I once wanted. Although I deliberately chose not to follow that path, I wondered if I had made a mistake. That house would be nice to live in. That car would be fun to drive. It’d be fun to have people look up to me, and my accomplishments.

My run in the rain continued, and I slowly let go of my envy. I held no ill-will toward my friend. He’d stayed true to what mattered to him. However, that wasn’t my journey—nor were those objects and accomplishments important to me. My initial response was just a brief glitch, in which I momentarily forgot who I was.

I finished my run happy. Lately, running has been easier for me, and I’ve felt like I could take on longer distances. I no longer see this sport as a chore, but as a sort of meditation. I opened the door to our excited puppy, and my wife and kids—who wanted to know how my workout was. After a brief shower, we were on our way to cross country ski as a family.

I haven’t much money, but I’m rich.


Mudita is a new word for me; I discovered it via Tina Roth Eisenberg, who found it through Austin Kleon, who reposted Ligaya Tichy’s tweet.


  1. Wise words. I too struggle with ambition versus the deeper knowledge of what I really desire and need. Honestly, sometimes I just put on the Clash’s “Should I stay or should I go” and dance it out…. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Eric I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the blog this year.
    Not only am I loving the musical references but it is a timely reminder of mindfulness over materialism as a mantra to teach my children as well as endeavour to live by myself.
    I would go with London Calling, if we’re talking The Clash. I always felt it was a reminder of the social divide in the UK at the time, with election of Margaret Thatcher and the rise of Keynesian economics.

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