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There was a time in my life that I believed I would—one day—win an Oscar.
I had no doubts whatsoever.
Back in the day I had bucketloads of ambition, I believed I had the talent, I hoped I’d have the good luck that one needs to win big in life, and I worked my ass off to make sure I gave myself the chance to get what I wanted: Roopa Swaminathan, Oscar winner for Best Screenwriter.
But then reality struck—and struck hard. I moved stateside from India to get my master’s degree but with the ultimate aim to move to Los Angeles, get a job at a film studio, write, and then get my screenplay sold. Unfortunately, as a foreigner, things aren’t that simple.
I had to struggle, not in the film industry, but just to get to the film industry. I had to worry about mundane but vital requirements, like having a work visa to be able to stay in America. Unlike STEM graduates, who get their green cards easily, I was competing with regular Americans for an entry-level position at Paramount or Sony studios or to make coffee for Conan. And when all these companies could easily hire qualified Americans for the job, why would they sponsor an Indian girl for a work visa?
So, no—the Oscar dream did not quite happen for me. And for a while, I was pretty devastated because for years, I associated succeeding in my career with being happy. I was young and raring to go and dreaming of winning an Oscar, so not even getting close meant my life was a failure, and therefore I was unhappy. Honestly, for a long while, I was miserable.
And that’s how it is for a lot of us, isn’t it? We are force-fed this idea that in order to be happy, we need to do big things: make more money, become the next Mark Zuckerberg, wait for Prince Charming to sweep us off our feet, have six kids, or, in my case, win an Oscar.
But eventually, we grow up. We mature. And even if a part of us, somewhere deep inside, still considers ourselves a bit of a failure, we do move on.
And that’s when we make the biggest discovery ever.
We don’t need the big things to be happy. What we have right now—at this moment—is enough. That doesn’t mean we stop working hard or having unreal and seemingly unattainable dreams or being ambitious. Absolutely not. We do the work. And if things work out, great. But if they don’t, it’s okay.
Let me say that again: if things work out, great. But if they don’t, it’s okay. Where we are right now is okay.
It took me a long while to get to where I am today and to say boldly and openly and loudly that I’m happy and content with what I have now. I no longer fall apart when I don’t get what I work hard for. I still yearn and wish and think wistfully and feel pangs of envy when others make it, but it no longer squeezes my heart on the inside. I can be happy for others while also being extremely happy for myself.
I’m not just happy though—I’m content.
And a big part of my having arrived at this Zen-like place in my life are the following quotes, which I have stuck all over my tiny apartment to read and reread when I find myself starting to spiral. These quotes tell me that I’m not the only one who thinks this way and that many extraordinarily successful people have been through the same struggles. These quotes give me strength, energy, and the belief that the path I’m on now is the right one.
I’ve found the balance between being ambitious for my future but also being content with what I have in the present. I hope you find the same.
1. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ~ Dr. Seuss
I now enjoy looking back on my journey and am in awe of the daredevil I was when I went to L.A. with less than $100 in my pocket. I can now look back and smile—not cry—because although I never got close to a studio, I journeyed to L.A. with so much swagger.
2. “Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
This is my mantra now, every single day: “Live as if this is all there is.” And it’s a major lesson that took me years to learn. I work hard for my goals and ambitions, but if this—today, where I am right now—is all there is? I’m okay with that.
3. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein
More golden words have never been spoken. And this is from Albert Einstein, a genuine genius. I used to be the kind of person he refers to in the first half of this quote: always pessimistic, always wanting more and more (nothing wrong with that) but also unhappy and miserable AF when I didn’t get what I wanted. And let’s face it, barring a miniscule percentage of folks on planet Earth, none of us really get what we want, right? When I realized how unhappy my pessimism made me, I switched gears. It took a while, but I went from being Negative Nelly to Positive Patty.
I’m happy that I’m still alive, that there is a planet Earth, that the Pacific Ocean and the Sahara Desert and the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum and the Great Wall of China exist. I’m thrilled that I go to bed feeling safe at night. What is all this if not a miracle? Honestly, everything is a miracle.
4. “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” ~ Frederick Keonig
Instead of more, more, more, I’m now enough, enough, enough. I recognize, love, and appreciate what I have. Again, that doesn’t mean I sit back and chill and take things easy and become lazy. No—God only helps those who help themselves, remember?
5. “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it.” ~ C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis’s words are a gut punch to me, especially after the sh*tty year I’ve had. What I’ve learned this past year is that life is also about suffering. Every religion, every scripture, has some version of this truth but we just choose to pretend we haven’t read it. And then, when we are faced with suffering, we look stunned, as if it all came out of the blue. No, it didn’t. Suffering is a given. It’s part of our DNA. Know it. Understand it. Learn to live with it. And be happy about it.
6. “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” ~ Socrates
Another important truth: we need to learn to be okay with what we have and where we are today. Because if we don’t, no matter what we get we’ll never be happy. Because when we get what we think will make us happy, we just want something more. This vicious “want more” cycle will continue and we will never really be satisfied and at peace with what we have.
7. “Be happy with what you have. Be excited about what you want.” ~ Alan Cohen
This is so true. Like I said, I’m so content with my life right now. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish for more. But if I don’t get it, I know I’ll be okay.
8. “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” ~ Carl Jung
Ah, the power of darkness. It’s only when we have seen the dark that we can appreciate the light. Being happy will only have real value when we also experience deep sadness.
9. “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” ~ Helen Keller
This is a big issue, isn’t it? Many of us have a one-track mind to happiness: a two-story home, a vacation house, a Mercedes, Calvin Klein jeans. When we are into something so specific, we forget to see the other amazing things that happen as we’re waiting for what we want. They may be simple, but they have power. A hot cup of coffee. A toddler’s giggle. A beautiful red rose. There are always smaller doors opening. We just need to look for them and walk through them.
10. “I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.” ~ Thomas Carlyle
Me too, Mr. Carlyle. Me too. I now find excitement in the mundane. Eating a slice of pizza and binge-watching “Ozark” give me the same pleasure that traveling to Iceland did a few years back. Given the state of the world we live in, just being able to go to sleep is a luxury for mankind. And I finally get it. I’m no longer blasé or bored about the mundane and trite and commonplace. I enjoy every moment that I’m awake and go to bed exhausted—but happy.
These quotes have given me permission to be still and relax. They’ve helped me understand the power of being happy with who I am and what I have right now. And they’ve allowed me to embrace and revel in my own sense of self. I hope they do the same for you.