I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and gravy... and expectations. And not just because gravy (even vegan gravy) is delicious.
People are always telling me that I seem really content with my life. Granted, it’s been fairly easy (I wasn’t born in a country at war, my family had enough money to clothe and feed me, I mostly have my health, and I’ve found a way to make a living off of my creativity). My life isn’t without some struggles and loss though. That’s unavoidable, regardless of who you are.
Sometimes folks ask me what my expectations are with my business or product launches.
My answer is always that I expect very little from anything I do.
When I released my first book I hoped to sell 12 copies. 12. With Creative Class (my first course) I hoped to make a few thousand bucks over a year, to give me extra money on top of my freelancing revenue. And I was just as stoked with this mailing list when it hit 146 subscribers as I am about it now.
This is not because I’m a pessimist, not because I don’t believe in myself and certainly not because of some reverse entitlement or guilt.
My expectations are low because I consider anything beyond a little bit of success to be gravy. Sweet, delicious gravy.
I think about success like a scale with a start and end point. If the left is failure (i.e. a product launch that has zero sales) and the right is winning (not even sure how to quantify that… all of the sales, perhaps?), then somewhere in between is the point where I’m content with things and the rest is gravy. In fact, that contentment point is only slightly past the left edge.
The reason I set the bar so low is because I don’t want to hinge my life, my happiness or my feelings of worth on any given launch or product or thing I do for work. Especially since launches are mostly out of my control and good ones are the result of a billion tiny things going right. Outcomes like a successful launch rely on external factors and other people. That’s not a safe place to draw worth from.
I require very little from what I do to make me happy or content. Past that point (which is mostly a point chosen that covers my costs), the rest is gravy. Meaning, further success is just a bonus. Your meal is what you sustains you. Gravy isn’t required, but it’s nice when you can add it on top of something.
This doesn’t mean I don’t get angry, lose my mind or stress-the-hell out sometimes. Because that totally happens (especially ON launch days). It just means that over-all and on average, I’m more content than feeling those bad things.
I have more fun focusing on the process. Because that’s controllable—if you like what you’re doing outside of the results, then you’re going to like what you’re doing regardless of those results. Enjoying what you’re working on? Then KEEP DOING IT. Positive outcomes are great, but they’re just gravy on an already-delicious meal.
Which do you focus on, the process or the outcome?
If you’re not sure, consider your self-talk. Do you say:
- What if this fails?
- What if in doing this, I’m thought of as a fraud?
- What if this doesn’t make 5 or 6 figures in revenue?
- I really enjoy doing this sort of work.
- I’m stoked to be consumed by making what I’m making!
There’s obviously a huge difference, yes? The first way of thinking is outcome-based (and can lead you to not even starting something) and the second is process-based (where any positive outcome is really just gravy).
Developing a mindset that attaches some worth to the effort you put into something makes the process enjoyable and rewarding. Otherwise, it’s too difficult to start (let alone finish and launch) what you’re working on.
A lot of times people confuse being content with not being driven. This logic is flawed though - because contentment means I’m happy with where things are at right now but still endlessly strive to do more, to create more and to make the things I’ve made even better. The contentment is what drives me forward to want to do more things. (Like a jetpack!)
Things won’t always go right. Which is a nice way of saying that sometimes life is going to shit on your face or your mind is going run off to become a ninja. But with a low enough bar, those obstacles are overcome-able. And the wins, even the tiny ones, those just become delicious gravy.
Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: