Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wanting is also an achievement

In a world where everyone seems to want more, it is easy to forget how hard it is to really want something. To be left wanting is obviously difficult. It is also difficult to take the risk of saying "this is what I want." It is okay as long as we only admit to wanting the easy stuff, or the stuff that we can live without. But to know real want is to say, "I will be lacking if I cannot have this or do this."

And so the motivational speakers have their cake and eat it too when they preach the virtues of knowing what you want. Because it is much easier said than done, this knowing what one needs and this knowing that acknowledging the want means that something is missing in your life that you might not find. If you really want it, the speakers say you will find it. If you do not find it, they imply you did not want it. We all know that is neither fair nor true.

Sometimes it seems that all the work we do on outcomes and framing and congruency are only ways to define a space in which people are safe enough to know what they want. Even if they do not say it out loud; even if they do not shape well-formed outcomes and strategic plans, they acknowledge that they want. It is a powerful recognition: the truest mirrors show us what is there and what is missing.

We hide our true wants behind a screen of red herrings: those things we are willing to want precisely because we can live so easily without them. We tell ourselves we want a million dollars or a new house or car or toy because these wants are games we can play without risk. We say, "I want a chocolate. I want the latest cell phone. I want a vacation."

The next time you ask someone, "What do you really want?" take a moment to reflect on what you have asked and who you would be willing to tell the truth about what it is you really want.

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