When Do You Stop?

“It’s my son’s graduation this evening. But I’ve so many patients waiting!”

To see the chairman of a hospital, who healed thousands every year, so despondent and mired in angst over a self-created dilemma was heart-breaking.

For the next five minutes, I was at my persuasive best. I argued that he must stop putting patients always ahead of family. Before I finished, he came to a decision. He picked up the phone and spoke to his secretary.

“Tell everyone they’ll have to wait for a couple of hours.”

And then, he slipped out of hospital through a backdoor.

The next morning, he said: “Thank you for helping me decide to go last night. It was a special moment with my family. I won’t forget it for the rest of my life!”

A favorite blog post, written by my friend Derek Sivers, begins with this story:

Two friends were at a party held at the mansion of a billionaire. One said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” The other said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have: ENOUGH.

So… When do we stop? Where do we draw the line?

Take money, for instance. At first, we set out to make some of it. And two things can happen. Either we fail – when we keep trying other ways, until we make it. Or we succeed – when we start thinking of ways to make MORE of it!

With food, it seems easier to know when to stop. After all, our stomachs impose a physical limit on how much can go into it. And even if revelers of Roman debauchery did vomit to free up space to return to the banquet, most of us remain sated… for a while.

But that’s temporary.

A couple of hours later, temptation returns. The craving grows stronger. And pretty soon, we’re back at it.

Getting some more!

It’s the same with other drives as well – sex, work, reading, coffee, drugs, or any other form of seduction.

The desire for more creeps up slowly, grows all-consuming, and drives behavior towards achieving it.

Over and over and over again.

No slowing down.

No pausing to think.

No stopping.

Just keep going!

A friend once told me he wanted to work until he had 10 million rupees in the bank. Another friend has 3 BILLION – and is as driven and excited about making more.

As college students, we’d enter a buffet hall at any conference, determined to at least sample every dish on the huge tables – never mind how stuffed we felt.

An acquaintance of mine remains rapaciously indulgent well into his sixties – his flagging sexual performance boosted by little blue pills!

So WHEN do you stop?

When it begins to damage your health?

Or destroys your relationships?

Or affects your balance?

I see people my age stuff themselves at a restaurant the way I used to as a teenager, and wonder if it isn’t just a heart attack waiting to happen!

I see dads (and now, increasingly, moms) put work or other stuff ahead of family, and wonder if they’ll see their relationships sour and strain to breaking point.

I see folks use the soporific of “Just one more time” to justify their intemperate behavior, and wonder if they’ll eventually con themselves into believing their own lies.  After all, practice makes perfect.

There’s a profound saying in Tamil which goes:

“Alavukku minjinaal amirdhamum nanju”
(When it exceeds a limit, even nectar becomes poison.)

churnocean[In mythology, the devas (Gods) and asuras (Demons) together churned the divine Ocean of Milk using Vasuki, the serpent king, to hold Mount Mandara as the churning pole. After a millenium of intense effort, they obtained amirtham, the nectar of eternal youth and everlasting life.]

Yes, even the magic potion of immortality can be toxic – when you overdose on it!

When do you stop?

When you have ‘enough’.

But… when do you have enough?

Ah, to know that is wisdom – and happiness!