Sometimes in life, after hoping and striving and struggling and waiting, we really do get what we want. But getting what we want creates new problems. And these problems can make us forget that we got what we wanted.

We might meet the love of our life. Now we can fight with that person. 

We might buy the car we always dreamed of having. Now it can break down.

We might win a contest that had seemed unwinnable. Now we can miss having a contest to prepare for.

When we get a big thing that we’ve wanted for a long time, it often comes with smaller things that we didn’t want, expect, or plan for. These complications can make us feel unlucky, as though we’re being denied what we want. It’s easy to forget that we’re only able to experience these complications because in fact we’re very lucky: we got the big thing we wanted. And that big thing is still bigger than all the small things it came with. 

One big thing I always wanted in life was to be able to create my own music and share it. For a time, when I was younger, that goal seemed unachievable. There’s a conceivable version of my life in which I gave up on my dream. But I didn’t give up. I overcame my limiting beliefs and gained the skills I needed. This took many years.

Last month, I wrote a new banjo piece, starting with nothing and arriving at an entirely new composition in ten days. An authentic expression of my inner self. The exact kind of music I wanted to make. I learned to perform the piece well enough that I could make a video of it and publish it online. All of this in ten days. And this was actually the third original banjo composition that I had written, performed, recorded, and released in the span of a couple of weeks.

This piece is proof that I got what I wanted in life. I spent decades finding my musical voice and overcoming the obstacles that once held me back from manifesting my creativity, and it worked. Now I can sit down with an instrument, come up with some ideas, form them into a piece, learn to play the piece, record myself playing the piece, and publish the recording in a short time. That’s the big thing I wanted.

When I finished the piece and released it, I felt a great sense of fulfillment. But the next day, I was filled with doubts: Was it good enough? Who would listen to it? And what would I do next?

Was it good enough? I had pushed myself to release it early, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Good for me. But this meant that my performance had mistakes and rough spots. There was musical potential inside the piece that I hadn’t yet unlocked in my playing. And the production quality of the audio and video could have been better.  Maybe I had rushed things too much? Maybe another day of practice would have made the outcome twice as good?

Who would listen to it? I had poured my heart into this effort. Ten days is not a very long time to write and record a piece but I had worked nonstop over those ten days, compressing a few months of effort into a much shorter time. Now that I had finally released the piece, I wanted “people” to hear it. But who? For various reasons, including my own habits, behaviors, and tendencies, I haven’t yet gathered a large audience of folks who are interested and ready to hear the things I release. I struggle with inhibitions around asking for attention. So quite likely no one would hear it. I’d feel starved for feedback as I often do, and frustrated that I’m not making the personal changes to get out of this cycle.

What would I do next? Already I was beginning to “miss” the piece. I don’t have a good track record of refining the pieces I publish. I’m always choosing to work on new stuff rather than go back to what I’ve already done. Quite possibly, this video would be the last time I ever played the piece. That’s because if I don’t invest the time in notating a piece and I don’t keep it in my repertoire by playing it every day, I can forget it in a week’s time. You could ask me to play it and I wouldn’t know how to begin. I’d have to relearn it from scratch. After ten days of intense work on this piece, I now needed to attend to other aspects of life and that meant my focus would be broken. The piece could easily “disappear” except for the video I had made. I felt sad to think that this same dynamic of forgetting would unfold again with this new piece I had worked so hard on.

As all these problems filled my mind, I wasn’t thinking of how they came to be. I wasn’t thinking of them as small complications resulting from my good fortune in achieving the big thing I always wanted in life. I was just thinking of them as problems. Big problems. Big problems that had annoyingly come up just now in a life already containing problems. The fact that I had gotten what I wanted? This critical fact disappeared from view and all I could see was that I had problems in front of me. 

The thing that I wanted, and got, wasn’t a fancy car, big house, powerful title, or overflowing bank account. I just wanted to be able to create and share my own music. But it didn’t matter that my goal was arguably a wholesome, worthy, and non-materialistic kind of goal. We can choose the very best goals – the most valuable, authentic, and meaningful goals that resonate with our truest self – believing that we’ll find happiness in pursuing them. But we won’t find that happiness unless we also take the right attitude to our success. I don’t mean being humble about our success. I mean keeping our success in mind when all the complications it causes would make us forget that we succeeded in the first place.

To find perspective on my own situation, I found it helpful to remind myself: I wouldn’t be facing these challenges right now if I hadn’t gotten what I wanted.

I wanted to be able to create my own music and share it. In all the years I dreamed of doing that, I never stipulated that success would only “count” if I got a million views when I shared a piece. I never said success would only count if I could perform my music flawlessly after a few days practice and never wonder if I could do better. 

In a sense, my problems were trophies – they were evidence of my success.

I wouldn’t be facing the “problem” of having a small audience and not getting feedback on my work if I didn’t have work to share in the first place.

I wouldn’t be facing the “problem” of how to maintain my repertoire if I wasn’t creating music to include in that repertoire.

I wouldn’t be facing the “problem” of doubting the quality of my release if I hadn’t done the release in the first place.

All of the frustrations and anxieties that filled my mind were, in some sense, privileges that followed from my achieving a major life goal. Privileges that followed from my good luck in getting what I had hoped for.

The principle of always remembering the big success that creates our smaller problems is a principle we can apply to almost any problem we face in life.

Because one of the big things people tend to want is to keep living. To have a long life. To survive. 

Any problem we face is a consequence of our getting that really big thing that we wanted. If we’re having any particular problem, that’s only because we survived, we didn’t die. We didn’t perish in a fluke accident. We didn’t suffer a fatal decline in health. We might have faced life-threatening challenges, but we didn’t succumb and we didn’t give up. We’re still here! So we’re lucky to be able to have the problems we have.

Whatever those problems are, they are emblems of our success. We have those problems because our wish came true. We got what we wanted. We survived. We survived all those many challenges and dangers we faced in the past, and the result of all that struggle and risk is that we’re still here, still aware enough to be frustrated and to hope for more. To have problems is a privilege. It’s a sign of good fortune. It means we’re really lucky, because our dreams, which are bigger and grander than our problems themselves, have been fulfilled. ■

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