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Journey Before Destination:

Contentment vs. Complacency

--Adam Maisen, LPC-S/TA

· Encouragement,Imposter Syndrome

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? I thought for sure that I would be an inventor or a doctor. As I grew up, I wanted to be a foreign missionary. Did you end up doing what you thought you would? If not, don’t worry about it. I didn’t either.

How do you define success?

In our culture, success is often equated with financial or social status. Society pushes us to always be looking for the next big thing. I will finally be happy when I get the big promotion, get out of debt, get married, or have a fancy house and car. You can fill in the blank ad nauseam.

In my article a few weeks ago, The Imposter Within Does Not Have to Win, I mentioned types of criticism that we feel. I believe that we tend to measure success by our accomplishments. If you get stuck in perceived criticism from others or “shoulda, coulda, woulda” expectations of self, then you may see yourself as complacent.

Contentment and Complacency

Contentment is about being happy with your current circumstances. It means enjoying the present and recognizing the good in your life. I am not a doctor, or an inventor, or a foreign missionary. However, I believe this is okay. I am a son, a husband, a dad, and a friend. I am active in my church. I have a roof over my head. When we take a moment to appreciate what is true in our life, then we get to taste the sweetness of contentment. I have heard it said that if a person becomes content, they must be complacent. But wait!

Complacency is akin to laziness. This is a giving up on personal goals and ambitions. Another way of saying this might be acknowledging goals and being unwilling to move toward achieving them.


If we believe that contentment and complacency are synonymous, then we can never really be happy. Some people think that if we are not whole-heartedly focused on moving to whatever is next, then we must be too lazy or flaky, or any number of other negative descriptors. This contributes to anxiety.


In my practice, I see people working towards improved emotional well-being. When the process is a little slower than they prefer, my clients often feel complacent. The truth is that they are listening to that external or internal critic that says that they should be further along in their process. These are the times that I encourage them to zoom out and recognize how far they have already come.

Life before death, strength before weakness, journey before destination. —Brandon Sanderson, Author

Growth Mindset can Coexist with Contentment

I am looking forward to the next chapters of my life. It is wise to recognize that we all have room for growth. However, it is also important to be happy with our progress thus far. Appreciating what we have simply does not equate to giving up on goals for growth.

3 Attitudes of Contentment

  • Be thankful for what you have.  Consider you relationships, support, provisions, nice weather, another day to live, etc.  There is always something to be thankful for.
  • Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the moment.
  • Maintain a positive focus.  We find what we are looking for.  When we look at the negative, that is what we see.  Conversely, when we look at the positive, then we realize we have a lot to be content about.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And the God of peace will be with you. –The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8-9)

If you are feeling stuck, contact me for a free 15-minute confidential consult. I will work with you to explore and challenge ways of thinking that leave you feeling paralyzed so that you can continue on your journey.

Feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments section.

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