It seems to me that we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking
about what we want in our lives. Last week I was working with a group
of people—mostly in their forties—and they shared that this was the
prevailing question in their lives. It got me thinking that this is the
question for all ages. At 65 I still ask it, although with less of a
need for an answer than at other times in my life.
What do I want? Simple enough question, but one that we seemingly don’t
answer or we wouldn’t keep asking it throughout our lives. It is one of
those questions or statements we make that smacks of virtue. But I
think something else is afoot here. For example, implicit in the
question is that there is or should be an answer. Yet the mere asking
of the question obscures the obvious option of wanting what we
have—what the sages call profound acceptance of ‘the way it is’.
In the est training, one of the aphorisms people embraced was that
“Happiness is a function of what is”. If we really choose ‘what is’,
then there is no point to the question “What do I want?” In fact,
continuing to live in the “What do I want?” question is a way of not
being present and not taking responsibility for whatever choices we
have already made. The question reinforces the myth that life and
reality can ever be other than it is and keeps us living in a ‘what
might be’ scenario without the awareness that all the time we are
trying to figure it out, we aren’t choosing ‘what is’.
Where does this ageless question emanate from? If it is so universal,
it must be more than a personal musing. My 70-year-old friend Dan
retired when he was 60 and declared that from then on he would only do
whatever he wanted. He stopped asking himself what he wanted and just
started doing it. He reports that one of the best aspects of retirement
is a kind of relaxed peace of mind: whatever is happening is just what
he wants to happen, and if it isn’t, he does something different
without a lot of ‘what iffing’ and ‘why notting’. He is a passionate
fan of soccer and sumo wrestling, continues to write his memoir, and
savors his San Francisco lifestyle with his lifelong partner, Sandra.
Recently another friend and I were talking about the mindless
juggernaught of consumerism and how easy it is to get caught up in an
endless shopping spree. We commented that one of the best things about
retiring is that the need for ‘more’ was somehow receding into the past
and that we were feeling righteous—almost like reformed or recovering
consumers. We even joked that someone should create a 12-step program
for shoppers (actually, I found out someone already has). The point is
that whatever drove our ‘wanting’ in the past—whether it was power,
money, fame, possessions, relationships or whatever—seems to wane with
Vince recently sent me a kind of modern-day parable about a rich guy
from Harvard talking to a poor fisherman who lived a relaxed existence
lying on the beach and enjoying life in a developing country. The rich
MBA fellow was coaching the fisherman to build his business to be
successful and make lots of money. The punchline: with all the money he
would make, he would be able to afford to do whatever he wanted (such
as to go to a developing county, go fishing, lie on the beach, live a
relaxed existence and enjoy life).
Like almost everyone, I want to be happy. If the sages were right,
profound acceptance of ‘what is’ is the key to happiness, then I know
what my final answer to the recurring “What do I want?” question is.
I want what I have.