If the kids waited to eat their marshmallow until the researcher came back, they would get a second one.
Some kids ate the first marshmallow right away. Others waited a minute or two. A few made it to the end. Researchers watched these kids for years and found that the longer the kids had waited, the greater their future “success” (defined as behavior, SAT scores, professional achievement and so on).
I never took this test, but I can imagine what might have happened if I had.
Being the good student that I am, I would have waited for the second marshmallow.
But then what?
Having just learned that self-control equals winning, I would have kept waiting. The next day, or maybe two, I might have discovered, to my vast disappointment, that my marshmallows had gone stale.
I know this about myself because of raspberries. I love raspberries, but they are also pricey. How often, in my life, have I bought a container of raspberries and rationed them out to myself a precious few at a time, only to discover on the third or fourth day the rest were moldy.
This basically sums up the whole first chapter of my life.
When I was five years old, I decided to go to an Ivy League schol because I’d heard they were the best. For the next 13 years, nothing came between me and my A+’s. I had this illusion that if I worked hard now, when I got to college someone (I never thought to ask who) would give me my second marshmallow. But when I got there, there was no marshmallow…
So I kept working. There must be another marshmallow out there somewhere. At this point, I’d been training for over a decade in the art of striving; specifically for success by the conventional definition. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t even know what I was interested in, but I did know one thing: I knew how to work hard. So I just kept going.
Ten years later, I was working for a great company. I was doing a good job there, but in my heart I was still waiting; waiting for my boss, my family, my friends, whoever to say, “Good Job, you won. Here’s your second marshmallow.”
Finally, one day, the spell was broken. I got a call from my mom telling me my dad’s cancer had returned. My first response to this news to feel distracted. “Not now. I have too much work to do.”
My second response was this: “Wait. What!?” My dad was the closest person to me, my best friend. When had work become more important than his life? No, seriously. When? Was it this job? The last one? Was it college? High school? When did I lose track of what I really cared about?
When did I get on this speeding bullet train to I-have-no-idea-where?
Twenty years of working, pushing, trying, competing, comparing, wanting, striving, worrying, waiting, hoping, needing, yearning…it all suddenly became clear.
Something. Isn’t. Right.
That day I walked into work and asked for a six month sabbatical. During that time, I tried a completely different approach. I did what I wanted to do. I tried trusting myself. I listened. I experimented. I played. I traveled. I learned new things. I spent time with my dad. I started drawing, meditating, meeting new friends with new definitions of success who talked about presence, kindness, aliveness, and love. Eventually I left my job to explore the passions I’d discovered in that time.
Now, six years later my life looks completely different. I call myself an artist. I travel and passionately investigate my inner world. I grew up as a devout atheist, unable to fathom the mystery in my linear mindset. Now I’m frequently intoxicated by spiritual exploration. I draw comics about love, loss, passion, purpose, and presence. If you’d asked me, back then, how I could possibly end up here, I’d have had no idea what to tell you.
Looking back, I realize the secret is so simple: I finally ate the marshmallow.
No more waiting. No more hoping. No more looking for someone or something outside myself to reward me. And no more thinking that two is better than one. Isn’t there a saying about this? A marshmallow in the hand is better than two in the bag?
I want to end by sharing the story of my friend, Amit, who inspired this post. Five years ago Amit went to the doctor feeling excessively tired and discovered that, at the ripe young age of 31, he had Leukemia. Perhaps more accurately, Leukemia had him.
Amit has survived—“so far”—as he puts it. And since then he’s been changing everything in his life to do the things he’d always wanted.
The moral of his story is the same: None of us know how long we get, but we know we don’t get forever. So how about it?
Let’s eat the marshmallow.
Author: Leah Pearlman
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren