To get what you want, you have to stop wanting

You don’t get what you “want”. You get what you work for.

Magic lamp from the story of Aladdin with Genie appearing in blue smoke concept for wishing, luck and magic

A friend once said, “It’s not real unless it’s on the calendar.” 

For a long time, I “wanted” to do stand-up comedy. I would see the people on Comedy Central or late-night TV, and laugh, and think, “Hey, I’ve got some good jokes. I bet I could get a laugh or two.”

But then, I’d never do anything about it.

For years, I “wanted” to write good stories. But did I? Nope. Oh, sure, I wrote stories, but did I make them good? Did I get critiques? Did I revise and refine? Did I study the craft of plot, and characterization, and setting?

Nah, I just wrote whatever came out, and called it “good enough”.

For a long time, I didn’t really “want” to be an actuary. But I passed exams, participated in ethics trainings, completed monthly deliverables, cashed my paychecks, etc.

I was a hell of a lot more actuary than I was stand-up comic or writer.

So what’s the difference? It’s all in what you’re willing to work for.

See, when you “want” to be successful, or when you “want” to go to Italy, or when you “want” to someday do stand-up comedy, you’ve already achieved the goal. Your brain calls the “wanting” good enough and doesn’t worry about following through.

Mindset and deadlines give you something to work for.

With the stand-up comedy thing, I didn’t really have a deadline. Until I heard that there was an open mic at a bar on a night I was already planning to be at. So I put it on the calendar – I said, “I’m going to be at that open mic and I’m going to try my jokes!”

When it became I will instead of I want, it was real, and then it actually happened. I told a few jokes, got a few laughs, and I’ve done it a handful of times since.

The big difference was, there was something on the calendar. There was a real, concrete date with real, concrete expectations. And there was a change in how I talked to myself.

When it was Someday I want to do open mic, my brain did its standard shortcut thing and decided that I’d already achieved the goal. 

When it was Next Wednesday, I will be on that stage, my brain couldn’t ignore the reality staring it in the face. While my subconscious produced tons of doubts and fears that were trying to get me out of being vulnerable, my conscious mind said “You don’t have control in this situation,” and did the thing anyway.

The thing is, you never get anywhere by wanting something. You can only make change by doing something.

Lots of people want to be a world traveler. Or in a healthy relationship. Or a successful CEO. But they don’t actually do the things that would get them to that place. Again, I think it’s because when we think of ourselves as wanting things, our brains assume that wanting is the end goal and don’t see a need for more effort.

Instead, what if you thought in terms of “I’m becoming a…”?

I’m becoming a world traveler. My next trip is to Italy in the summer. Wouldn’t that constantly remind your brain that you’ve got to book the ticket, get the passport, buy the new luggage, save for the plane trip, and hit the gym?

I’m becoming a stand-up comic. I’m searching for open mic nights within an hour from me. Wouldn’t this demonstrate just how much opportunity there is, give you incentive to talk to the others after the show, and actually do something with that Twitter handle you registered years ago?

I’m becoming a newscaster. Wouldn’t this lead you to practice in front of your mirror nights and weekends, write and rewrite your copy, and make the LinkedIn connections you need in order to get the entry-level producing job that leads to the field reporting job that leads to the weekend desk job which leads to the 6 PM anchor position?

Nobody every got where they wanted to go just by wanting to go there. They actually worked for it. That’s the big difference.

Me? I don’t “want” to be a successful author. I am, however, becoming one.

So, stop wanting. Start becoming.

Extremely Bad Advice: Social Circle Jealousy

Dear SJ,

I am so sad seeing others happy. 

My ex girlfriend who cheated me by spending away my savings with her new boyfriend is doing well in her business. My parents are living with luxury with my hard earned money while I take abuse every day from my boss and colleagues. A deranged friend whom I lent 2,000 dollars in his troubled time is enjoying his time in the hills with lot of girlfriends. He doesn’t even remembers taking money from me. He is in and out of therapy so I can’t possibly get my money back now. I see street vendors happy with their lives while I am struggling with my midlife crisis. Being abused by others and with no clue to fix my own life is making me so miserable. How do I get out of this?

— Miserable in Milwaukee

Woman burning dollars closeup

Dear Miserable,

Listen, I know this is going to sound hard to hear, but … everything here is your fault.  

Your girlfriend spent your life savings? Your fault for allowing her access to that money. Your parents “living in luxury” while you’re toiling away at an abusive job? Your fault for staying in the job. And your fault for giving your parents anything at all! That “friend” who’s absconded with your two grand to go play redneck tickle-the-pickle – where do you think he got the cash from? It was your decision, right? You did that, right? You made that ‘gift’, right? Because if it was a loan, you would have written up a payment schedule and interest rate and you’d have some kind of enforcement mechanism that would allow you to get your money back.

But you didn’t. You didn’t do that, and you didn’t take precautions in any other aspect of your life, and now you’re upset at how things turned out.

Here’s the harsh truth: you’re not really sad at seeing others happy. You’re actually sad at seeing how many bad decisions you’ve been making over the years.

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