Ask any person “What do you want in life” and most people wont have trouble coughing up a generic answer. Everyone has something they want. People want a beautiful partner, a happy family, a successful career, respect of their peers, money, power, fame, joy, peace and a dozen other things that vary depending on personality.
It’s not hard for someone to answer the question “What do you want in life” because everyone wants something.
I actually use the “What do you want in life” question a lot when I meet new people. I see it as a way to dig deeper into understanding what makes a person tick. I ask it to find out what drives that person, what really gets them revved up, what consumes their thoughts when they wake up in the morning and what still plays in the background when they turn down for the night.
Admittedly, most of the answers I get from this question follow the same generic pattern – “I want financial freedom, I want to travel the world, I want to control my own time, I want happiness and a happy family” etc.
When I hear these answers I try to dig deeper.
“No seriously… think about it, what do you really want in life?”
What usually happens from my prodding and prying is something quite amazing. Those stock standard generic answers transform into passionate confessions.
- “Actually since you asked, what I really want is to bring healthcare to orphans in India”
- “I’ve got this passion for teaching entrepreneurship to primary school children”
- “I want to help single mothers in abusive relationships”
- “I’d love to build my own food business and run it different to the places I’ve worked in”
At this point the person whose life I’ve managed to get a sneak peak into is getting excited. The pauses between sentences shorten, the voice perks up and the eyes widen. We’re now talking about something close to their heart, something they could talk to me about for days. We’re talking about passion.
It’s also at this point that a change in the conversation happens. This happens 99% of the time (not really but it happens a lot). The person not only shares what they want to do but they also share the journey they’ve been on. More specifically, I start hearing stories about the struggles involved and the fear of what lies ahead.
- “That organization I set up for the orphans had a crisis last year. I had to step in and make some hard leadership decisions. I still don’t know whether we’re going to make it through but I have to press on.”
- “Nobody thought I had anything useful to teach children. It’s taken years and only recently someone has been willing to give me a chance to teach about entrepreneurship”
- “Most days when I spend time with abused mothers I can’t help but feel emotionally exhausted. I’m angry, sad and heartbroken at the same time”
- “Running this business can sometimes feel too hard. I’ve been surviving on 3-4 hours of sleep every night. I’m on the verge of exhaustion. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. Do I even still want to do this?”
It’s always easy to want something. It is much harder paying the price to get what you want.
When I was younger my mum impressed on me 2 specific things that I still remember today.
- Ivan you eat too much
- Anything worth having in life has a price
I’ve found lesson number 2 particularly truthful.
Anyone who wants to become a world class neurosurgeon does not achieve it without suffering through long hours of study, intense competition, lots of missed social activities and the unrelenting pressure.
Anyone who wants to provide clean drinking water to children in Africa does not achieve it without suffering from a lack of home comforts, long uncomfortable travel and living with less monetary resources than working a corporate job.
Anything worth having in life has a price. If you want something you also have to want the costs. You have to be willing to sustain the pain
Some of you may have noticed that entrepreneurship is becoming an “in vogue” thing to do. More and more people are dreaming of leaving their jobs and starting their own businesses so they can have more control of their time and have greater financial freedom.
I think it’s great that more people want to give entrepreneurship a go but what gets spoken about very little is that you don’t become a business success unless you’re willing to sustain the pain that comes with it. The pain of embracing risk, working deep into the night while friends knock off from their 9-5 jobs, relentlessly pursuing a dream without any guarantee that it will work, the repeated failures and worst of all the uncertainty.
This week I helped a friend move his business into a new office. The new space is much larger than the old one which is good because his business is growing. I helped him move into the old office 7 years ago and back then the small place felt huge. The new office has that same “this is massive” feel about it.
I wasn’t around to see all the business struggles he’s been through but I’ve seen enough to know that he didn’t get to where he is without sustaining the pain. Not just for a month or 2 but for years. In fact we even spoke briefly about the challenges ahead now that he’s moved into a new office.
Anything worth having in life has a price. If you want something you also have to want the costs. You have to be willing to sustain the pain.
Over the next few days many of us will be making new years resolutions. We’ll be listing down things we want to do and achieve. Things we think will make us better, happier and more rounded people. We’ll be answering the same question we ask ourselves every 1st of January:
“What do I want this year?”
I’m doing something different this year. I’m going to try and move beyond the wants and instead choose my pain. Choose what I’m willing to endure and work through. Choose what I’ll keep pressing on for even when I feel like giving up. I’m going to seek an answer to this question:
“What pain will I sustain this year?”
What about you?
The bigger determinant of what you achieve, who you become, is not what you say you want but what pain you’re willing to sustain.
This post was inspired and is a tribute to a great article from the Huffington post I read a couple of weeks back called The Most Important Question You can Ask Yourself Today. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thank you Mark Manson.