“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.”—Ryan Holiday
From the moment you were born, you were thrust into a world and a system that automatically pulled you along. You spent some time chilling, drinking milk, and discovering the wonder of being alive then suddenly you were plucked from the warmth of your mother’s arms and put into a room with other kids.
And so it began, you moved up to bigger rooms as you grew older, choosing subjects from your limited options and looking forward to being an adult. After 18 years or so, you were spat out into the wild west of the real world. Now things are a little different. The rules are ambiguous, the expectations even more so. All this choice frightens you, so it’s easy to give in to someone, anyone who can give some direction. Usually that is your job or societal expectations at large. Between those two there are no shortage of metrics and KPIs to chase after. Soon enough you are running around frantically, chasing points and achievements and accumulating stuff without any real thought to what you REALLY want.
The first step in getting what you want is knowing yourself. The next step is perhaps even more critical, as you would imagine. It is knowing WHAT you want in the first place. Sounds easy enough, but it really isn’t.
Desire is a very tricky thing. Sometimes we have to peel back layers of conflicting ‘wants’ to really find the core of what we truly desire. Discovering what you want is not easy, it takes some work.
What do you want?
The cardinal sin in answering this question, which is the one so many of us are guilty of, is the sin of vagueness. We only have a vague impression of what we want. We know we would kinda like to be rich, kinda like to be happy, kinda like to do something we love. But vague desires lead to vague action which leads to vague results. You will never get what you want if you are not very clear about what you want.
It is so hard to know what you want, because there is already so much that conditions us if we are not woke to doing the internal work. Deciding what you want is making a decision, to choose one thing over another. We by nature are very social creatures, our likes and preferences get shaped by the forces of our environment. We get taught what to want. But what we are conditioned to want may not be what we REALLY want.
How many times have you chased something, really wanting it, and then getting it and realizing, “fuck, I actually don’t really want this”. You spend all that time and energy climbing to the top of the mountain, only to find out that you are on the wrong mountain.
If I asked you what you wanted, your answer would most likely fall into one of these broad categories. You want a degree, more money or you want to be rich. You want cars, or houses, or clothes, or a loving relationship, or a family, maybe you even want to make an impact. It is fine to want those things. It is also easier to want those things because they are always in-our-face as part of culture. Never doing the self-examination of our desires means that even deeper, more fulfilling desires are left unmet because they are never considered.
If you are an entrepreneur, you know ‘success’ generally means getting tons of money and building a massive and impressive company. And so, you decide that is what you want. So, you spend time and energy, building, breaking your back over this thing that you ‘want’, when truly what you want is just enough to ensure your day to day freedom.
In a world that tells you want to want every second of the day, it is important to check in with yourself and find out…what do you really want?
Knowing what you want starts with knowing your values. You have to figure out what is important to you. And this comes from knowing yourself and diving in. If you don’t know what your values are, you are like a rudderless ship with no direction. You can easily get shifted into things that are not for you. You can end up wasting your life.
It is said that we don’t really want the thing we say we want. What we truly want is the feeling that thing will give us.
We don’t just want the nice sports car with the plush interior, what we really want is the feeling of accomplishment, of pride, or being envied or respected that comes with it. There is nothing good or wrong with wanting things, just also know why you want them. You don’t want to waste your time trying to fill your inner holes with the wrong things.
If you know what is important to you on the inside, you are better equipped to make decisions and choices. Now you would know what you truly want.
If you would like to dig deeper into values, Steve Pavlina has a great 2-part piece on Living your Values here.
What do you want to give?
Knowing what you want is not just about knowing what you want to get. It is also about knowing what you want to give, what you want to contribute. If you want to get something, you need to know what you are willing to give for it. How are you willing to serve the world, the people around you?
These questions are not the type that are easily answered. Sometimes you can come to an answer in a few minutes, but usually, it takes a long time. These are the questions you wrestle with, the ones you live with. You might find the answer today, and then tomorrow have to come with a new answer. We are human, the world is chaotic, things change. The goal in all this is to become a little more intentional, more conscious in our pursuit.
Once you have figured out your values, what is important to you and what you seek to contribute in the world, your who, your what and your why begin to align. And when you are aligned, you start to work, hustle and move with purpose. You become unstoppable.