Watering my own grass — my relentless pursuit of purpose and contentment amidst an undying desire for constant improvement.

Ashley Chang
5 min readAug 27, 2023

This story is part 2 of my series of stories about things I’ve been struggling with in my journey into adulthood. Check out part 1 on my yoga and anxiety journey here.

Sometimes I get stuck in the unfortunate mindset of longing for what I don’t have. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed it repeatedly in myself and in those around me. It’s a casual tragedy.

Realizing when I’m not grounded

About a month ago, I visited some friends in SF, and in the middle of the top floor of the Google office overlooking an incredible view of the water, one of my friends and I discussed how we’ve been feeling lately. I explained that after a year of moving every few months and traveling to a different city or country nearly every month at the same time, I was “tired of travel”. She called me out: “I dream of living like you, but here you are complaining about it.”

Similarly, I’ve been having doubts about the way I’ve set myself up with moving to New York and everything else that came with the move. Even though the decision to move to New York was natural and mostly a no-brainer for me, there are some drawbacks. Namely, I easily get overwhelmed in stimulating environments and find it more difficult to ground myself in a city like New York. I’m worried that I’ll want to spend a lot of time at home and miss out on the opportunities to make new friends and develop my current friendships in the city. I often imagine moving into the suburbs or even just living on a farm or in the mountains for a while. Recently, while catching up on FaceTime with one of my friends who moved to the suburbs of California, I realized that he was struggling with the opposite emotions — feeling isolated and under-stimulated.

What’s ironic is that all of my friends and I are living lives that we each would have been proud of before college. Most of us are moving out of our family homes, have impressive jobs, are surrounded by reliable support systems, and more.

Good Ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes up quite often these days. The hierarchy illustrates different levels of needs as a pyramid to show that basic needs at the bottom (shelter, food, etc.) must be met before we can begin to consider needs higher up on the pyramid (self-esteem, aesthetics, etc.).

Not my own concept, just an interpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The hierarchy correlates pretty directly to my journey thus far into adulthood. Only when I had the jobs, relationships, and general stability was I able to think more about self-respect, freedom, and more.

Existential question time!

The question that I wonder nowadays is if the pursuit of being higher on the pyramid is a worthy one. Or does wanting to constantly improve take away from being in the present and enjoying what you already have? Probably both.

Will we ever be satisfied? Is the chase the best thing about life? Or is it taking away from our lives?

When we look at the lives of people at the top in our capitalistic society, namely billionaires, how can we gauge their level of satisfaction with their lives? They are notoriously unhappy, but is happiness the goal in life?

A lil tangent on ikigai

There have been a few periods in my life where I’ve felt a grand sense of overall satisfaction. In fact, I feel satisfied most days, though I can easily point out things I’m struggling with all the time. If I think too hard about it, I’ll typically start to wonder if happiness and satisfaction are temporary illusions, and if it’s better off that way.

The concept of ikigai, “a reason for being”, has been on my mind ever since I heard of the concept, which is a Japanese concept that roughly tries to define what makes up a person’s purpose. Since I’ve been thinking more about it recently and since I started reading Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, I’ve been making decisions with the four pillars of ikigai in mind: passion, mission, profession, and vocation. So far, so good (and very intriguing!).

Not my own concept, just an interpretation of ikigai.

In a society that values certain aspects of work and life more than others, the Japanese approach is refreshing. For most of my life, I’ve tried to balance what I love with what I can get paid for (two parts of ikigai) without as much thought in what I’m good at and what the world needs (the other two parts that complete ikigai).

Even though it’s more to think about when making decisions about how I spend my time, I’ve found it to be a worthy investment of time and energy. In terms of time management, the amount of energy you spend making a good decision and introspecting about how to spend time is a pretty good investment given how much more time you’ll actually spend doing the endeavor in question.

It’s all a balancing act.

To my detriment, I’m often guilty of extreme thinking. Optimism, pessimism, and even delusion have all hindered me in the past. During times when I feel like things are lacking, it’s useful to practice gratitude:

  • I can work on myself while appreciating how far I’ve come.
  • I can want things I lack while being grateful for what I already have.

Talking to people is helpful.

Furthermore, I’ve found that in times of solitude or in conversations with people that serve as echo chambers, it’s easy to get in our own heads about what’s wrong in our lives. I’m immensely grateful for the people in my life who can call me out for losing sight of the big picture and bring me back to earth. While most of my friends share relatively similar general values to me, talking to different people about things I’m going through still usually provides a more well-rounded perspective and helps me to zoom out.

So what?

The remedy for grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side is probably just to focus on watering your own damn grass. How to do that in practice? Well that’s another open-ended question to ponder, isn’t it? There’s something weirdly beautiful about the confusing abstractness of my mental models these days — it’s both a tragedy and an art.

Thanks for reading!

Been thinking about the same things lately? Leave a comment or email me at ashscaffeinatedthoughts@gmail.com to contact me.

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Ashley Chang

22-year-old NYC-based software engineer | Writing about the life lessons I'm learning along the way.