I used to work on my first novel because I really wanted to be a writer.
I stuck with it because I believed I’d never get a better idea, and even when I could feel that it sucked and would take me nowhere, I wrote page after page, nonsense after nonsense, just to be stunned by my own lack of skill.
One day it hit me: the idea that I can only have one good idea — it’s ridiculous.
The idea that a real writer would never give up on his work: also ridiculous. All successful writers had written a whole lot of crap before they were able to write anything good. Every. Single. One.
But those are the kind of thoughts you think when you’re afraid that you might never get the thing you want. They can keep you in a negative loop for years, destroy your confidence and make you question all your decisions.
All because of this one thing that you absolutely must have.
The funny thing is…
Today, if I have to put my finger on my biggest achievement in life, it would be my family. I chose a great husband, and we built a beautiful relationship. We have two boys and a dog. We have a lot of fun together.
I’m deliriously happy about this part of my life, but it’s not what I wanted. It’s not what I set out to do. I was never one of the girls who thought about her wedding or having babies.
Then there’s one of my best friends. A corporate director with a salary that can make your head spin and connections with some of the top business owners in the country. She’s ready to throw it all away if she could change her husband’s mind about the divorce.
So what happened?
The Decisions We Make
Choosing my husband was the calmest, most rational decision I’ve ever made in my life. I liked him, but he wasn’t my type. So what, I said to myself. We had so much fun together, and I chose to give him a chance.
Then, when I saw how happy we made each other, I chose to not just “try” but to give this relationship all I had.
At the same time, I was open to the possibility that this, like any other romantic relationship I’ve had before it, could crash and burn. In fact, I consciously looked for the early signs of a crash: partly to see if I can prevent it and partly to brace for it.
But those signs weren’t there. There was nothing about our relationship that made me feel uneasy, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on something either. So I continued to give it all I got.
Nine years later, it’s still going strong.
But things can’t “go strong” when you really, really, really want something.
You’re too emotional. You’re too attached to the outcome: this has to work. You’re not looking for signs of problems; you actively ignore them. You’re not willing to give this all you have, but rather to give this what you must in order to see some results that would confirm you’re on the right track.
The decisions you make don’t come from a place of rational positivity and realistic evaluation. They don’t come from a place of commitment or inner peace.
They come from a place of fear and impatience.
You attach your own worth to whatever you want most: a career, a family, an awesome body.
If there’s but the slightest chance you won’t get it, a flurry of questions fills your mind: Are you worth it then? Would your life have any meaning without this? Would you ever be happy?
Those questions are too big for you to act rationally, so you act on emotions. Strong emotions that you mistake for intuition. And you make fast decisions. It’s the only way, you say to yourself. I must have this now; I must do anything to keep it.
“The problem with fast thinking is the existence of dozens of different cognitive biases which can lead us towards the wrong answer: we tend to be over-optimistic; we prefer simple solutions; we notice and remember information that confirms what we already think; and we favour continuing down paths in we’ve already invested time or money in.” — BBC.com
Look at the bigger picture.
If you write one crappy book, it doesn’t mean you won’t one day become the best fucking writer in the whole wide world.
If you’re getting a divorce, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have an amazing, loving, fun family.
The problem is your attachment not just to a specific outcome but also to a specific road that’s supposed to lead you to that outcome.
Being a writer is not about one novel or one article. It’s about writing and getting better at it and finding your voice and your way of sharing valuable ideas.
Being anything is not just about one thing. You can’t take one wrong step and lose it all. Even if you do, it won’t be the end of the world. You never know what amazing things life has in store for you. If you keep walking bathed in self-pity, staring at the ground, you might miss them all.
All roads lead to Rome.
All roads lead to what you want, and the only thing that stands in the way is you realizing this.
I used to say I want to be a writer. Now I say I am a writer. Nothing happened that “made me” a writer other than me deciding to spend more time writing. Your day job doesn’t make you not-a-writer.
My friend keeps saying she wants a happy family. She also keeps saying that she adores her son, and he makes her super happy.
Do you see it now? She has a happy family. It’s not what she thinks it would look like, but it’s still a family.
All roads lead to Rome.
If what you want is really what you want, you’ll inevitably get there.
In fact, chances are you’re already there.
If it feels too difficult, then it is too difficult.
Anything too difficult for you to achieve is not the right thing to shoot for in the first place. I’m not saying awesome things are easy. I’m saying that when you shoot for the stars, it should feel exhilarating.
“It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” — Paulo Coelho.
Also, if you’re shooting for the right star, you should take pleasure in the process itself.
Life isn’t about difficult things. It’s about meaningful things.
How to Stop Wanting It (At Least a Little Bit)
There is no way that you only want one thing in life.
There’s something on top of your priorities list, I get that, but I’m sure there are other things you want too.
How about switch your focus a bit? If you’re all about creating a loving family or finding your soulmate, focus on work for a while or on your fitness goals.
And vice versa.
Just distract yourself the way you’d do with a toddler throwing a tantrum in a toy store because that’s your mind right now. A pouting toddler.
Taking a step back will grow you as a person, which will help in all areas of life. Plus, the perspective you’ll gain will probably lead to a breakthrough in how to get what you do want, oh, so much.
Life isn’t about one result, one lesson, one dream. You’re too complicated of a being to turn yourself into an arrow flying towards a single target. You’re so many arrows flying towards so many targets that it’s impossible to know with certainty which ones you’ll hit and which ones you’ll miss, and how it will all affect you.
In any case, it would be much better and more productive to focus on the flight itself.