Why You Don’t Have What You Want

Whether in love, in work, or anywhere else in life

One of my dearest friends is struggling to find her life partner. She is certain someone is out there for her, but also increasingly anxious about the fact that it hasn’t worked out for her yet.

This struggle is incredibly common — the hunt for a partner.

It fascinates me. Because to me, relationships seem incredibly obvious and easy. I have no problem getting into them, no problem choosing a partner and just kinda running with it. So at first I didn’t really understand this emotional preoccupation.

And then I realized: I do this, too.

I’m not guilty of it in love (well, perhaps I am. Perhaps I just reject my suitors years later down the line) but I definitely do it with work. Whereas this same friend accepted a job and goes to work with the composure and ease I have with relationships, I definitely mirror her attitude with work.

“Why isn’t it working out for me?”

The reasons vary. The reasons are also all the same.

It’s you. (And it’s me. It’s always “us,” ourselves.) The steps to achievement are actually incredibly fucking simple — be good at making good decisions, make a decision, and then take the necessary steps. But we hold ourselves back from getting what we want. And we do this because we’re insecure about something.

Here are some ways that insecurity manifests. Not all of them will apply — but at least one of them will.

You don’t know what you want

Not specifically, you don’t.

Not literally. Not in a way that means anything. You don’t have a crystal clear vision. You don’t have focus and clarity. You may feel strongly, but the feeling of resolve isn’t actually tied to anything. You may think you want it, but you don’t actually have anything specific.

Because you don’t care about anything enough, and it’s important to you that you care about it. Or because you care about the wrong things. Or because you’re holding yourself back somewhere else (read on.)

We have big ideas about what we want — in theory. But so many of us struggle with the specifics.

“I want a business” is not a thing. “I want a partner” is not a thing. What problem are you trying to solve? What kind of partner? What are you going to do with your day when you wake up tomorrow?

What you want isn’t actionable

We want things like “a business” or “money” or “happiness,” and this shit isn’t actually actionable.

You can still get up every morning and execute against “the thing” in theory — work out, eat healthy, meditate, take cold showers, whatever the fuck — but without an actual, literal, actionable endpoint in mind, all you’ll have to show for it is some rad habits that lead to nowhere.

The people who accomplish the sort of things we want don’t think in terms of “business.” They think about the problem they’re trying to solve — something to improve outside of “myself.”

Because you reject everything

You can find a reason not to pursue pretty much any option, or you reject it a year or two later, because you feel like:

“I know there’s something better out there for me.”

This is what binds so many of us up in finding a partner — we want our ideal, we think we deserve our ideal, and we keep holding out for an ideal that isn’t fair, realistic, or actionable.

I don’t do this in relationships, but it is what I’ve done with work since I got my first job — always thinking I can do it better, or “this should be better,” but doing nothing whatsoever to actually pursue it besides quitting jobs and looking for a new one — then starting a company, only to set it down because “it could be better.”

I’m bartending to bide my time while I “look for my next company,” but the reality that I’ve only just now realized is that when you disqualify everything, you end up with nothing.

Better is what we make. And there’s nothing to build on if we go through life constantly looking for “better.”

Because you have ideals — you’re looking for “perfect”

And because perfection isn’t possible, you’re on an endless hunt that leads to heartbreak.

You want the best and perfect solution to something — work, love, etc. — so you get hung up on thinking about your ideals — what you want, what you deserve, what your idea of greatness and perfection looks like.

You become anxious and frenzied when things aren’t perfect — when a relationship isn’t everything you think it should be, it fills you with anxiety and unhappiness.

The problem is that when you hold off committing to anything, you end up with nothing.

You have two options:

  1. Change your standards
  2. Stubbornly maintain your standards and have them forcefully changed for you

Fucking ease off, man. Take it easy.

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. 
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. 
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. 
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”
— Aldous Huxley

Because you’ve made self worth about “the thing” you want

The difference between people who have the thing you want and people who, like you, are suffering and struggling through getting it is: one group made it about their self worth.

You want to know why achieving this thing is so important to you? Because you’ve made your identity about achieving it.

And as long as you hang your self worth on an external marker, you’re going to hamstring yourself from doing anything that could harm it — because doing so is hurting you.

People who have whatever it is you want got there because they weren’t immobilized by every misstep. They didn’t have breakdowns when shit was imperfect, they don’t get hung up on how it matches up to the ideal in their head. Because they don’t make it about their own value.

This thing you want so bad is fucking you up because you’ve made it into something — you’ve hogtied yourself. And now, because you have it on a pedestal, you’re hindered and you’ve terrified yourself into a corner.

If you make your self worth about finding a partner (and not only a partner, but the “right” partner; the “perfect” partner), you’re going to sabotage every relationship — until you realize that the relationship isn’t there to stand for your self worth. Likewise, if you are obsessed with finding the perfect work, you’re going to sabotage every job or business — until you realize that your work is not a stand-in for your self worth.

You may not think you’re sabotaging it — in fact, you may think you’re trying very hard. But the more anxious you feel about it, and the more you unload that anxiety back into it, the more you’ve tethered yourself to this thing and made it about your own value.

And you think everyone does this, but they don’t. I certainly did. I value other people by their work. Some people value others by the “success” of their relationships and home life. But people who have these things — calmly, quietly, with certainty — don’t actually view and value themselves in this way. Because doing so causes too much anxiety, and the anxiety will always sabotage it in some way.

Because what you want is contradictory

And because your standards of measurement are self-sabotaging and stupid.

You want a meaningful relationship, but you keep looking for bullshit like looks and income and they way they dress.

You want meaningful work, but you keep measuring it by money.

You think everyone does this, but they don’t. People who really have these things don’t measure them in this way. They are secondary, not primary, motivators. People with richness in their lives got there by pursuing richness first, and not hamstringing that pursuit by evaluating it with bullshit measures.

You think you can have both, but you can’t. Focusing on bullshit, or using bullshit to measure meaning, will always extinguish anything worthwhile.

Because you don’t work for what you want

You get sidetracked. You get distracted. You lack motivation or discipline or follow-through. You’re more excited about the ideation or daydreaming about the thing than actually executing. You make excuses, you let things trip you up. You lack grit.

You think you’re the only one who experienced setbacks, or you think others didn’t have this thing, but the reality is that everyone who has something got there by getting up every day and doing the work and hustling — even through the boring bits.

Because you don’t actually want it that badly

You only like the idea of it, not the messy execution. You like the idea of owning a business, but making decisions (including which business) isn’t actually something you do day to day. You like the idea of a relationship, but not the messiness of making one work.

You like the way things sound on paper, but you like the idea of them more than you like the details. You don’t want the shit sandwich that comes along.

Because you don’t commit

To either the decision or the follow-through, or both.

Because you aren’t certain enough. You aren’t confident enough. Because you fear you’ll miss out on something better. Because you get sidetracked and tempted by other things. Or because you’re insecure about how you’ll be perceived by others. Or you’ve burdened yourself with other people’s struggles.

Because you’re afraid of the unknown. Or because you need to know everything before taking action on anything. Because the idea of trial and error terrifies you.

How to get what you want:

Nobody talks about the first step. But without the first step, nothing else matters.

  1. Stop making this thing about your self worth. Have good standards — built on internal, not external value. Don’t make decisions based on bullshit. The “right standards” is the area of ourselves where the problem really exists. We don’t have what we want because we don’t know what we want or what we want is the wrong thing or we can’t decide — all because our decision framework is fucked. Our values are bullshit. Fix this, and the rest becomes incredibly easy. And then it’s as simple as:
  2. Decide. Fucking decide.
  3. Actually do the work.