The essential quality you need to reach a new elevation

The quality that will move us closer to our goals and dreams is all about self-restraint, not sweating the small stuff or giving in to petty grievances.

Illustrations by John P. Weiss

We all want to be happy. Behind the gym workouts, long commutes, office politics, internet dating and life struggles, resides our deepest desires for joy.

The optimists among us struggle to stay vigilant when outcomes disappoint. The pessimists find temporary solace in pointing out that they were right.

Work, school, alarm clocks and meetings intrude in all our lives. In the end, everyone soldiers on.

Just as perfection can be the enemy of completion, endless routine can become the enemy of personal growth.

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” — Henry Van Dyke

To break the routines and work cycles, we celebrate the weekends and schedule our vacations. We hold on to family time, and squeeze in a few hours here and there for our passions and personal enrichment.

Amazingly, there are some people who seem to navigate this life journey with greater ease and contentment. The question is, what’s their secret?

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A new elevation

We live in an age of rapid communication, omnipresent technological advances and great opportunity. While it is true that some industries and professions are dying, new industries and professions are emerging.

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” — Jimmy Dean

The changing landscape of work creates uncertainty and stress. Adding to this is the transient nature of employees today. People come and go, searching for that perfect job or better promotional positioning.

Unfortunately, even when people land that perfect job or promotion, they’re not always happy. They find things to complain about.

Many of us seem to spend more time focusing on negativity than positivity. We get hung up on the small stuff.

Fortunately, the frequency of happiness in our lives can be increased by reorienting our perspectives and reaching for a new elevation.

Individuals can raise the bar in both their personal habits and interactions with others. By avoiding known pitfalls, learning from the mistakes of others, devoting oneself to constant learning, loving and pursuing one’s passions, a new elevation can be achieved.

The result will be greater self-esteem, well-being and yes, even happiness. But before you can attain any of these things, you have to develop one, essential quality.

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The essential quality

Who among us has not encountered the negative coworker, always complaining about real or imagined problems. Or the whiny friend who gossips about everyone and bristles at perceived sleights.

Such individuals stumble through life, colliding into one drama after another. Ill equipped to efficiently work around inconveniences and disappointments, they remain mired in their unhappiness.

Many of their problems could easily be traversed with half the energy they put into complaining. Some of these people come with entitlement mentalities, convinced the world owes them everything.

“Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you.” — Joel Osteen

So, what is the essential quality you need to attain new heights and achieve your dreams?

Emotional maturity.

In my 26 year law enforcement career, low emotional maturity was a common theme I found in miserable people. They seemed to find no end of complaints or injustices to rally around.

I remember some officers in my own police department that forever butted heads with management. They would complain to anyone who listened and tried to enlist supporters and foment anger and dissatisfaction.

They adopted adversarial postures, derailed morale and created a strained work environment. They might have won a few battles here and there over policy differences, but in the long run, they remained miserable. And because of their poor attitudes, they usually were passed up for promotion.

Was it worth it?

Years ago, I attended a lecture by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, author of the book Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. Dr. Gilmartin, a twenty year police veteran, expertly explained how idealistic cops turn into cynical, bitter cops.

Central to Dr. Gilmartin’s message is the importance of letting go of things you can’t change, and focusing more on your family, health and personal passions.

In his lecture, Dr. Gilmartin told the story of a police sergeant who literally quit his job over a management rule he disagreed with. Officers in the police department used to be able to wear goatees, but a newly appointed police chief disallowed them.

The sergeant rallied supporters and battled the new police chief over the rule, inevitably quitting his job in protest. Dr. Gilmartin ran into this sergeant years later, working in an auto-repair shop. He asked the sergeant, “Was it worth it?” The old sergeant said, “No, it was stupid of me.”

The problem was that the sergeant lacked emotional maturity. Rather than letting go of things he could not change, he decided to battle them. And it unnecessarily cost him his job.

Are there some things in life worth going to battle over? Certainly. Some injustices are too big to ignore. But life is full of daily indignities, small injustices and things we disagree with. Emotionally mature individuals figure out how to circumvent these irritants and get on with their lives.

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How’s that working for you?

How about you? Do you declare war with every management decision? Do you swath yourself in self-righteousness? Do you enlist fellow mutineers and shop stewards to rock the boat at work? If so, how’s that working for you? Are you happier?

The happiest and most successful people I knew in my career found joy and pleasure in their work product. Whatever the rules, whether they agreed or not, they focused on exemplary work. And they had family, friends and passions outside of work that sustained them.

These people possessed emotional maturity. No tantrums. No angry, anonymous letters to management. No hastily called union meetings to circle the wagons and proclaim a hostile work environment. These people did great work, ignored minor inconveniences, and were genuinely happier.

Please don’t misread the message here. Yes, there are some leaders and management teams that are truly malevolent.

There comes a time when employees need to take a stand and change things. But for the day to day decisions you might not agree with, is it worth the stress and strain to cater to your emotional immaturity? Should you really quit because the boss said “no” to goatees?

We’re all striving for new elevations. Higher levels of achievement and personal happiness. To get there, we have to sidestep a lot of stuff we disagree with.

The essential quality that will move us closer to our goals and dreams is emotional maturity. It’s all about self-restraint, not sweating the small stuff or giving in to petty grievances. It’s about keeping our eye on the prize. Namely, a healthy, fulfilling life.

Embrace emotional maturity, and a new path will emerge for you. It’s a path worth taking.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Thanks for reading.

This article first appeared on Medium.