Your Desires Are [Subject to Change]
After talking about how desires are a good thing despite some philosophies pointing out that they can sometimes cause you to to feel negative emotions, I thought I’d provide a short overview of how desires evolve over time.
Whereas in my previous post I discussed how the endless number of desires you’ll have in your life is not necessarily a signal that you should detach from them all for the rest of your life, it’s also important to note that you aren’t just going to find that one thing you want and spend your whole life pursuing it only to live happily ever after or die after it’s fulfilled. That’s why famous actors often going into producing, directing, or business ventures and retired athletes go into broadcasting, analysis, coaching, or other fields.
Your core desires are meant to come when they need to be fulfilled and go once they are. Hunger goes away when you eat food, and thirst subsides when you drink water. You sleep when you’re tired and then stop when you’re refreshed. You urinate and defecate when your body builds up enough waste and urges you to do so. You’ll be hungry, thirsty, tired, etc. again, but the desire subsides when you’re satiated.
Similarly, you feel other urges in life beyond just the physical because humans have advanced capabilities. We can read, write, build things, play games, and socialize. We can learn about a near-infinite number of topics, from how to cook a six-course meal to how to build a space telescope. As such, you’ll have desires to accomplish goals in your life in many areas, including familial, social, financial, intellectual, and vocational. As part of day-to-day life, you’ll have near-term goals like getting your next paycheck or meal along with long-term goals such as starting a family or retiring comfortably at age 65. To have a clear direction in life, you simply need to identify and define what you want and go after it while balancing the various desires and obligations that you have (including the biological ones mentioned earlier).
Now, you probably knew most of this, so where is the view-change on desire? Well, there are several issues that people typically have regarding desire:
- They are looking for the one, big life goal to chase.
- They seem to think that something is wrong when they no longer want what they used to.
- They can’t commit to certain goals because they are worried about being wrong.
- They think that having multiple goals or desires spreads them too thin.
- They think that there is simply work and rest/leisure and only ever rest/play if they could.
These misconceptions can cause issues in life, and those are the ones that I’d like to help you get over if you face them. Let’s go through each:
- There is just one, big life goal that you need to find. – Yes, some people do have their “white whale” of sorts. Maybe they strive their entire lives in pursuit of new scientific discoveries. Maybe they’re an Olympic athlete and spend their entire lives trying to be the world’s best at something. Those are possibilities, but the truth of the matter is that most people have many goals, and prioritizing some over others is a trade-off that has benefits and drawbacks. So you can work on relationship goals, familial goals, social goals, and experiential goals (e.g., traveling the world) while you’re figuring out what career really motivates you. It’s okay. And if you find something to do with your life that you’re passionate about, it doesn’t mean that you have to neglect other areas of life per se. Yes, there’s a trade-off because time is limited, but Tom Brady and Michael Jordan have personal lives. You can choose to balance or choose to sacrifice other areas for the big goal, but that’s your choice to make. You don’t need to be miserable or give everything up for one thing. Choose the balance that works for you—even if you do end up spending a few years working tirelessly as an entrepreneur and sacrificing your personal life. As long as you go in “eyes wide open” to what you’re doing.
- They seem to think that something is wrong when they no longer want what they used to. – It is okay if your desires change. Joe Montana famously retired at the end of the year where his job as a quarterback began to feel like work instead of a passion. Some people change jobs for fulfillment after chasing money for several years when they realize that they can’t do it anymore. Yes, this means that marriages might end if people have drifted apart or friendships might fade. Sometimes, these things happen. If you have a life change because you find something new that you’re passionate about, then that is often a good thing and you can move on. The one risk here is that you generally shouldn’t run away from something you don’t like vs. running toward something that you do. I know that this is a fine distinction, but people who run away from bad things often run into new bad things, and people who run toward better things often do see and appreciate the improvements they’ve found. Yes, nothing is perfect and so you should think long and hard before a major life change, but once you’ve done your due diligence and know that something new is right, then it’s okay if your desires in life have changed. (Note: a rare exception here is an obligation/responsibility like a pet, a child, or a dying parent; it’s still okay if you want something different from these relationships or need more time for yourself, but cutting yourself off from them completely is probably not the best/appropriate one)
- They can’t commit to certain goals because they are worried about being wrong. – This is a tough one. When people think that their whole lives are determined by one moment, like a test or a degree or a job or a specific life decision, they often put it off and do something else to avoid it. Remember that, most of the time (note: things like children excluded), you can change your mind. Don’t like your job? Get another one. Don’t like a purchase? Save up for an alternative (or return it!). Don’t like a date? Apologize and move on to the next one. Aren’t feeling that sport or hobby any more? Stop doing it and sell your equipment. Few commitments are permanent in today’s world, as everyone knows that people change. So barring a marriage proposal or children, you’re likely to be able to change your mind more easily regarding most things than you think.
- They think that having multiple goals or desires spreads them too thin. – This is one of the more legitimate concerns because it is a reality that time is limited. Instead of limiting yourself, however, simply think about how you can fit everything you want into your life. How much can you do now? What are you okay with putting off until later? When will you revisit to see if you need to change what you do? How can you hold yourself accountable to make changes when necessary? Most people can fit in a job, a relationship, some friends, some leisure activity or a hobby, some exercise, and children. Yes, it’s hard…but it is manageable. It’s all about priorities, trade-offs, and good time management. It’s up to you whether you can handle it—especially for the things that aren’t easy to change like the previous bullet mentions—but you can decide what’s right for you and reevaluate when needed.
- They think that there is simply work and rest/leisure and only ever rest/play if they could. – Ironically, this is the last on this list although it’s the reason for my post in the first place. There’s this classic misconception between the people who aren’t retired vs. people who are and people who aren’t working vs. people who are. There’s this idea that you would do nothing if you had the choice and that living a life of relaxation would be eternal bliss. However, the truth of the matter is that most people get bored after just a few weeks or months of not working in retirement and have to find something else to do. Also, people out of work are often more stressed—even when receiving financial assistance—because they feel the pressure of having to figure out their future quickly. Finally, a lifetime of not having to work at a job is different from a lifetime vacation: you have to fix and replace things, perform chores and health maintenance, and fulfill other responsibilities that you have to your family, friends, community, and society. So there is no such thing as eternal, blissful relaxation. You will either get bored, have other obligations arise, or find new pursuits (or all of the above). So instead of thinking that you have one desire to just relax forever, see it as being similar to your hunger/thirst/sleep/sex drive that you need some rest and then will be recharged to take on the next big thing. Or maybe you just need to find and move onto the next big thing. In any case, it’s likely that you should appreciate what you have and simply see if there’s anything you can do to feel a little bit better vs. romanticizing a scenario that doesn’t actually exist. This will allow you to make positive changes without “throwing out the baby with the bath water” in your life.
In short, your desires are subject to change, and that’s a good thing. It’s very important that you are okay with that. You don’t want to buy into the “happily ever after” myth or the idea that just one goal will fulfill you. There will always be something new, and that’s a good thing. The biggest “meaning of life” myth out there that I can’t seem to shake most people out there is that there’s one meaning for each of us that people just need to find and then they’ll feel fulfilled/satisfied forever. It’s just not true. It doesn’t exist, and you’ll waste your time if you’re looking for finality. Seek “better” instead. And accept and appreciate when you’re satiated while knowing that the next desire will find you when you get “hungry” again. It’s how life works, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It just is. Don’t fight it; embrace it.