The Danger of Desire

A few days ago a video came across my Facebook feed. It’s a talk by Alan Watts which has been done many times, such as this version:

(if you don’t feel like watching the video, I also really like ZenPencils rendition of this same talk.)

It is one of the many bits of sage advice about how it’s better to do what you love than to do, well, anything else. What it boils down to is this:

…if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living – that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. And that’s stupid! Better to have a short life filled with things you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.

All of which I do agree with, with some very heavy caveats. For example, nobody says doing what you love will be easy. Also, research has shown we’re notoriously bad at imagining the outcome of things, so when you get to do what you love it may not be what you expect. And finally: you have no idea what you may have to sacrifice in order to do what you love, and you won’t until you are doing it.

At that point, if you’re lucky, you can decide if it was worth it or not. But there’s also the very high possibility that it will be too late.

If it sounds like I’m harshing your happy Alan Watts buzz, good. I think it’s practically criminal that so many “do what you love” gurus don’t mention these things, much less help people acquire the tools to really figure out what they actually want. It’s a harder process than you’d think, because of the expectations of culture, family, or even just the ingrained habits of a lifetime of imagining how the grass is greener over there.

In case you’re interested, Steve Pavlina has a pretty nifty little method, if you don’t mind crying. But I’m not going to add in my own thoughts – instead, I want to take you in a different direction.

Or rather, in no direction at all.

You’re Here. Now What?

Hearkening back to last wednesday’s stress on personal responsibility, wherever you are in your life – even if you are stuck in that dead-end cubicle that seems to be so anathema to life-quality evaluations – you spent quite a few years getting there. If you’re alone, you spent some time keeping yourself that way (right, Poetic?). If you are in a relationship, regardless of quality, you spent time getting there.

The question to ask, before you chuck it all to go raise horses in the desert or climb trees for a living, is: why?

Take a look at where you are, because on some level there was something about being there that you wanted. Some quality about it reflects some desire within yourself, and that’s why you made things the way they are.

Here’s why it’s important to try and figure that out before you take off on your grand do-what-you-love adventure: it may be hard to recognize. That desire may be completely hidden, for the simple reason that it’s being satisfied. Yes, that’s right, you’re taking it for granted, the same way that some Americans turn their noses up at tap water while some desert-dwellers are glad to walk miles for a bucket of muddy water. It’s all about the environment.

I hear a lot of people tell me they wish they could live like I do, with a lot of traveling and interesting people and the chance to write so much. And it’s true, it’s a pretty awesome life. However, I’m very aware of the price I’ve paid to have this life, and it’s something that I constantly evaluate as to whether it’s worth it. For a time it cost me getting to know my grandsons, and that price was too high. Luckily I was able to make some changes so that I am no longer paying so steep a price. On the other hand, this life has also cost me relationships with people who were very dear to me, and by the time I realized it there was no way to go back and fix things.

Had I been able to understand the price back then, would I still do what I do? Possibly. But it is better, I think, to make a choice knowing what the consequences are than to make it with blind optimism just hoping “everything will sort itself out.”

So take a look at your life, especially at that part of it you might want to change. Is it serving a purpose? Is the cubicle job giving you health insurance for your family? Is living in the city giving you social opportunities that you’d miss if you moved to some idyllic hobby farm in the country? Do you really need to be a social butterfly, or does staying at home reading every night fulfill your introverted nature?

It’s important to know what parts of our lives are subsidized by the habits and environments we cultivate. Because change is gonna happen regardless; it’s probably a good idea to only help it along when you’re sure it’s worth the risk.

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