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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Wang

What it means to want

This is an extended and revised excerpt from my book.

The word, “want”, gets thrown around like it’s nothing in the everyday life of most people. It feels to me the way it is generally used is detrimental to people’s lives and their decision making. I think of “want” as a profound desire that brings a great deal of meaning, value, and ultimately, fulfillment to my life. The way "want" is used typically is what I consider as surface level desires. They are generally things that people prefer, enjoy, like the idea of, or think they would want if they were in a different situation. This distinction between profound and surface level desires, with the term, “want”, reserved, prevents self-conflicts and allows effective decision-making, leading to greater fulfillment and minimized possibility for regret.

While in school, I have heard many people say that they "want" to go out but they "have to" or “should” study. By understanding what you actually "want" (your profound desire), you understand that what you “should” do is what you genuinely "want" to do. They are one and the same. On a Friday night, as a student, you have many options. You can go out with friends, study, stay home and watch shows, work on personal projects, play video games, or do other hobbies. If you know that social interactions with your friends on a night out is what aligns with who you are and what you "want" out of life, then that is what you do. If you know that studying is what makes you fulfilled, or what leads to the career/lifestyle you’re ultimately "wanting" out of life, then that is what you do. Perhaps, you are introverted or simply want to relax, and you recognize that staying home and chilling is what you actually "want". Well, that’s what you do. Some people have personal projects that they are passionate about, which they find to be meaningful and fulfilling. Others have hobbies, like playing video games or reading, that offer them much more than the previous activities listed. Naturally, what they “should” choose to do is whatever that brings them fulfillment - what they really "want".

For me, I don't care for going out. I am not a big gamer. I am not that into dedicating time specifically for watching shows/movies. I also don't usually study at night. I generally go for walks, work on personal projects, and wind down for my early bed time. However, if my friends wants to celebrate their birthdays, I probably would "want" to go out. There are certain rare times that I would "want" to spend that time gaming. If I feel underprepared for a test, I would likely "want" to study a bit more and thus choose to do that. I know myself and my profound desires. I understand the situation I am in and what my options are. I think through what I get out of each option, the potential consequences of each option, and how each option would affect my sense of fulfillment. From there, I actively and intentionally choose the option that contributes the most to my sense of fulfillment, aligns the best with my profound desires, and is very clearly what I genuinely "want" to do with that block of time.

When you understand the concept of “want” like this and you realize that what you “should” do is exactly what you "want" to do, life becomes more clear, simple, and straightforward. This also means that discipline, in the sense of doing what you "should" as opposed to what you "want", is not relevant. However, discipline, in the sense of work ethic and dedication, is still essential.

Understanding “want” in this way also makes setting priorities easy and clear. Moreover, it eradicates the feeling of sacrifice when you do so. For example, NBA players, and professional athletes in general, often say they sacrifice time with their family to be on the road most of the year. However, with this definition of “want”, I perceive them to be choosing to do exactly what they "want" to do. What makes them fulfilled might be their legacy, the ability to provide for their family, the fame and spotlight, the wealth and lifestyle, the camaraderie and brotherhood between teammates, the joy of playing and competing, or whatever else they might get out of being an NBA player/professional athlete. To me, if they truly "wanted" to spend time with their family, they could retire or find another job. I consider them to prefer or to like the idea of spending more time with their family. I think that they probably "want" to spend more time with their family if they were in a different situation, where they could do what they do and also spend more time with their family. The reality is that people can’t have it both ways in many situations. It’s about looking at our options and choosing what offers us what we truly "want". Understanding this and the concept of “want” in this way, we find peace and acceptance in our decisions, and we do not feel like we have sacrificed or missed out.

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