What do you want?
This is the easiest question, this is the hardest question.
(It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.)
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
List of 10 ideas
As I ate my big bowl of morning oatmeal, I penned down yet another “list of 10 ideas”, a habit I’ve adopted at James Altucher’s suggestion. Sometimes the process is challenging – when you’ve spent a couple months making lists, you’ve exhausted a lot of the good and obvious ideas. You’ve hit the point where you need to dig deeper.
This morning, though, I was inspired by the (audio)book “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable“, written by Michael Jordan’s personal trainer. He was talking about being the absolute best at what you do (someone he calls a “cleaner”). It reminded me of Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You“, one of my favorite books.
The idea of being “the best” at something stuck in my head, so I decided to make a list of 10 things I could be the best at.
Since we’re all friends here, here’s my list:
- Best parent
- Best wife
- Best piano player
- Best piano teacher
- Best piano website/channel
- Best non-fiction writer
- Best fiction writer
- Best script writer
- Best personal growth leader
- Best vegan chef
Being the Best Ever
As I looked over my list, I realized that I wouldn’t actually want to be the best ever at most of these. I don’t have the desire to be the best parent or wife ever. I want to be a great parent and wife, but I don’t feel the need to be the best. For now, good enough is good enough.
And as much as I love cooking, I don’t need to be the best at it, either. My husband is a better cook than me and I don’t even feel the need to be better than him, let alone better than everyone. So scratch that.
Thinking about being the best piano player is laughable. It’s just impossible. I don’t have what it takes, and I have no inclination to compete at the back-breaking level necessary to get there.
Here’s what feels like an actual possibility: Having the best piano website/channel. It feels real because I can visualize it. I can come up with 100 ideas of things to do over the next 5-10 years to become the best. And then I can come up with 100 more.
This is something that feels within my grasp to be the best at. And it’s different than being the best piano teacher or piano player. I need to be good at both of those to have a relevant website/channel for piano players, but building an online business, recording videos and creating courses and events are unique to having the best piano website/channel.
Yes, this is one that fires me up.
But there are a couple ideas on my list that scare me.
Follow the Fear
Be the best personal growth leader? How could I ever hope to be better than David Allen or Stephen Covey? I’m a little baby and they’re giants in the field.
But there’s a difference between a scary thought and an impossible thought. Being the best piano player is an impossible thought. Being the best personal growth leader isn’t impossible. It’s scary. And where there’s fear, there’s something to examine more closely.
Can I be a better non-fiction writer than Cal Newport or Michael Pollan? Would I even want to play in that league? The thought makes my blood run cold.
Thinking like this changes everything.
I write every day. I read every day. I’m obsessed with personal development. But journaling and blogging with the intention to have fun and introspect is one thing. Writing with the intention of becoming the best is a completely different thing.
If I wanted to be the best writer, what would I do differently? Would I journal differently? Would I read different books? Would I take classes? Would I spend more time writing, or would I spend the same amount of time writing differently? Would I need a mentor? How would I go about getting better, aside from repetition? How would I earn a living from writing? Would I have to drop everything else? What if I could never be good enough? What if people said I was a terrible writer and that I’m wasting my time? What if I built my whole life around being the best writer ever and it was all for nothing?
These are scary, scary thoughts. Because making decisions here means rewriting my life. It means living differently.
It means getting clear on what I want.
That’s the scariest thing.
It’s fun to daydream about all the could-be’s. I love taking 20 minutes imagining all sorts of futures, just me and my brain. It’s one of my favorite quiet activities and I engage in it several times a week, usually as my daughter’s falling asleep for a nap.
Sometimes I’ll imagine traveling to beautiful places. Sometimes I’ll imagine having an abundance of wonderful friends. Sometimes I’ll visualize my perfect office or library or piano room.
These could-be’s are lovely because they’re ephemeral. It’s one thing to dream up a lovely future and watch it disappear as pleasantly as steam from a cup of coffee. The moment passes, the coffee cools, and nothing changes.
But if the thing you’re dreaming up is no longer a could-be, it’s a will-be – that’s scary. It means making decisions. It means saying yes to 1 thing and no to 100 other things.
I want to stay in a state where anything is possible. It’s the most comfortable place in the world to be.
But if I choose to be the best writer, I’m doing so at the expense of being the best at pretty much everything else in life.
If I decide to become the best writer, then I will probably never become the best piano player. Not ever, not someday. Never.
What’s more scary than the death of infinite possibilities?
This is why deciding what you want is the hardest thing. It’s a “yes” to one delicious meal, while saying “no” to every other potentially delicious meal on the menu. And you can’t come back to the restaurant ever again. At least as far as you know.
Thinking about what you want is fun. Deciding what you want is something that most of us avoid. I know I have. I know I do.
But I must observe the quantum particle. I must take it from the state of infinite possibilities into flesh-and-bones reality.
What do you want to choose?
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver