What Do You Want?

Seriously. I've agreed to stop talking about how you should “do what you love“, but I can't help but think that part of the reason people don't follow their passion is because a lot of the time they don't figure out what it is in the first place.

Let's be clear: there's a difference between something that you like, even something you love, and something you're passionate about. The difference is pretty easy to tell, but that's for another post: in this one, I'd like to try and figure out why we don't often say, even to ourselves, what we really want.

And what we're missing out on by that lack.

Try This!

I think a lot of it comes down to laziness. Simply put, it's easier to let someone else tell us what we want than figure it out for ourselves. “The Top Five Must-Have Gadgets for Better Productivity.” Sounds like a great article, right? Look at all the wants it layers on you:

  1. “Top” – Even if you already have these gadgets, you probably don't have the latest/snazziest/most feature-filled/simplest/colorfullest/sexiest version.
  2. “Five” – Ever notice how so many articles have five, three, or ten items? It's been shown that those numbes attract readers, for some reason. What are the odds that there were two or four items, and the author just padded the list to make the headline work.
  3. “Must-Have” – Suddenly it's not even a want. It's a need. If you don't have this, you'd better get it, because it's a must.
  4. “Better” – Like “top”, if you already have this productivity thing covered, you aren't doing it well enough.
  5. “Productivity” – What does that mean, exactly? And why is it just assumed that it's something you want?

All those layers of psychological manipulation in the simple title. Why? Because people usually don't want to read “Five Soon-to-be-Obsolete Things You Probably Already Have or Don't Need That Might Help You Get More Things Done But Regardless We'd Like to Sell You.”

And part of the reason they don't want to read those articles is because then they don't have to figure it out for themselves. Instead, they can let the article tell them what they should want, from the big-picture (“You want to be more productive, right?”) to the micro-qualities (“This is top-of-the-line!”).


I get that. I have owned enough first-gen Apple products to know the joy of I have the best tech available. But I also know how fleeting that is, because the whole thing is a machine created to make you want more. Bettter. Faster. Stronger.


The purpose of marketing is to keep these messages coming at you fast enough that you don't even have time to wonder if you really want that gadget, much less whether you want the larger quality – productivity, wealth, whatever – that the gadget is supposed to provide you with.


But I don't blame marketing entirely. That's more the symptom than the disease.



We do it to ourselves, and to each other. As I mentioned Wednesday, there's some severe logical problems with the arguments against following your passion. Yet that's the “sensible” thing to do.


Even worse – even though humans are shown to be remarkably bad at forseeing the future – there's that series of judgements that parade through the brain: It'll never work. Nobody will like that. I'll never succeed. Everyone will think I'm a failure. I'll let them down. They'll think I'm selfish. All of which is subtly and not-so subtly reinforced by our well-meaning peers and teachers and loved ones.


As usual for this blog, I'm not going to offer answers here. I have that same litany going on in my brain, and I know a lot of my friends see me as the outlier who did follow his passion. But you tell me: do you spend time figuring out what you really want? Or do you mainly let other people tell you what you should want, what you're allowed to want? If it's the former, please share how you manage to shut out the messages telling you that you shouldn't.


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