Tag Archives: choice

The price of getting what you want…

There is a phrase which is literally haunting me recently.

I was following a course on writing and, when studying about Neil Gaiman, I came across a quote from one of his books:

But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.”

Reminiscent of the classic “be careful what you wish for”, Gaiman’s version makes the idea sound much more powerful. Imagine that your dreams of, say, ten years ago suddenly realized? It could very well be that some of your wishes you still cherish and long for, but in ten years people tend to change. At least I did. Ten years ago I had a different life, different wishes, different dreams, and desires. Lots of things changed since then and by “lots of things” I mean — everything!

It could be that you cannot relate to the ten-year span. Take 20. Or 15. Maybe 30. You see, the number does not really matter. The truth is, that we tend to change, so do our dreams. Sometimes we realize that we have misunderstood ourselves; sometimes we better understand the price we need to pay, the opportunity costs if you will.

Be careful what you wish for.

I try. I have always tried. However, having heard that phrase of Gaiman I suddenly felt a cold shiver down my spine. There are things I wanted, which by no means would I want now. They would cost me too much. I would even accept never to have things that I do want at this moment if the price for them is… having those old dreams realize.

“The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.” — a scary thought.

On the other hand, would that mean that we should not dream at all out of the fear of dreaming “wrong”? I don’t think so either. I believe in the power of dreams, and in the power of dreaming. I wouldn’t want to forgo it. However, some of our dreams take hold of us and we give them all our energy. Those dreams can become our obsessions and that is where the trouble might be lurking. Even though it is impossible to predict what kind of people we will become in the future, what would our situations be, and what new dreams will arise in us, we are able to learn to understand ourselves now, in this very moment. We are able to understand what is it we are actually dreaming of. Moreover, with some reflection, we are also perfectly capable of understanding the opportunity costs.

In my work as a mediator and as a personal buddy (“wise friend for rent”) I have seen many situations when a person thinks s/he wants something, but s/he actually hasn’t reflected on that wish good enough. By “good enough” I mean understanding (1) why? and (2) what is s/he willing to pay?

You might have heard of the psychological exercise the “five why’s”. In essence for any dream or ardent wish, you have to ask yourself “why?” five times (or at least as many as needed to get to the core).

Let’s take the following hypothetical example: I want to travel around the world.

  • because I like exploring new cultures and new places;
  • because it enriches my life with experiences;
  • because I see differences and reflect on them, and that makes me question things I am accustomed to;
  • because in that way I can improve my life;
  • because I believe in progress and making progress makes me happy.

Note that for every subsequent answer there are also options other than traveling around the world. Basically every “because” comes with a set of assumptions. You assume that traveling around the world would allow you to explore new cultures for example. Maybe it will, but that largely depends on the way you intend to travel and things you are planning to do while traveling. However, maybe your underlying wish of exploring new cultures could be realized by being active in the local expat community. It might very well be that traveling around the world still is the right way for you. Nevertheless, it is good to understand that there are also other ways to cater to your underlying needs. Be it as it may, every dream comes with a price; and before vesting too much energy in that dream, it is best to understand its price.

The silently allowed discrimination

Had a meat-eater written something like: “Learn to love meat. If you don’t love it, you don’t know how to do it right. It’s the best for you. Start with these simple steps:…”, vegetarians would have gone berserk. Frankly, I would not appreciate such a style either, as that excludes the possibility of making a choice. However, when a lark is writing something like: “Learn to wake up early. If you don’t love to wake up early, you don’t know how to do it right. It’s the best for you. Start with those simple steps:…”, owls just suck it up. But wait, isn’t that the same narrative just in a different context?

Moreover, this narrative keeps on coming at you in all forms possible: “you definitely need to write the Morning pages!”, “The best time is Morning!”, “It is scientifically proven that a person is most effective in the Morning!”, ”Let me teach you how to start waking up early!” — that’s just by skimming through several pages of popular public speakers and coaches. The silently allowed discrimination! Well, I do not know which science has proven what, but I am dangerously aggressive (LOL) before at least 8 or better 9 in the morning … Am I doomed? Efficiency and balance are not for me by definition?

Actually if one looks around, it might seem like a conspiracy. The social life seems to be made by and for the larks, which personally, I consider to be the cruelest injustice of this world. I will tell you more: if you dare to openly admit that you prefer to work at night, very often you can hear sympathy or comments like: either you do not know how to organize your day, or you cannot prioritize. “You steal your own efficiency!”, “You crush your balance!”, and as a cherry on the pie: “You should just try, you will get used to it!”.

You can, of course, get used to almost everything, but this does not mean that you will feel good about it, nor that it is actually the best way. And if it doesn’t seem to work for you… why would you torture yourself?

I would like to conclude my slightly emotional narrative by stressing that the matter of conscious choice is relevant not only in respect of global issues, but also in connection with certain small habits and actions. There are no one-size-fits-all approaches. There are no magic transformations of owls into larks either. It all starts with knowing yourself, your needs and also your limitations. Most importantly, if it works for Tony Robbins (or anyone else, pick your favourite!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you. Thus, if you are more comfortable in the shadow of the night, start writing “Night pages” — they will be just as good and much more natural for you.

Spotting an illusion of choice

I like the philosophy of choice the school of our kids lives by. Kids are working around projects. From as early as 2,5-3 years they are encouraged to pick the theme which interests them and then explore it, learning a whole bunch of things along the way. That all sounds nice in theory, however then the reality strikes: I am hearing the same songs about exactly the same themes for the second round already. It is surely possible that the interests of the group where our daughter was perfectly coincide with those of our son’s group two years later, but let’s be realistic — what’s the chance of such a coincidence?

Continue reading Spotting an illusion of choice

Traps on the way to solutions

We encounter problems of a different scale on an everyday basis. Sometimes we succeed at finding desirable solutions, yet more than often the road to them turns out to be bumpy. In this short article, I would like to explore three common traps that make a problem-solving exercise very complicated at best.

To begin with, the trap number one is overthinking a problem. Continue reading Traps on the way to solutions

The greener grass or the right filter?

One of these days I came across yet another gripping post by Seth Godin and stumbled upon a phrase therein which made me pause and reflect.

Spend enough time looking through the glass on your tablet and you’ll come to believe that you’re the only one with a less-than-perfect situation. With the right filter, the grass really is greener.

…With the right filter, the grass really is greener… Continue reading The greener grass or the right filter?