You Don't Want to Admit It

by classicalgeek

Do you really want to do this? Or do you lack the means to express yourself properly?

Recently a friend and collaborator came to stay with me. He knows I have been teaching piano professionally for 26 years, and for the past thirteen years, he's been saying he wanted to learn. I pointed out that his two-week stay with me was the perfect time for a piano boot camp. He kept finding excuses not to do the assigned practice (ten minutes twice per day). What happened next astonished us both, and completely changed my thinking about language and how it relates to success in life.

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Wanting . . . Really?

You see, I have known what it was to actually want something. That caused me to move six times across the Atlantic in seven years; caused me to work sixteen- and twenty-hour days, and generally make a nuisance of myself to people who had what I wanted. And it occurred to me, that language might be part of the problem so many people around me had.

Those people would say they wanted something. What they truly meant was something entirely different. This insight started during the time that I lived in Europe. I had dozens of friends write me and say, "I really want to see Europe." I would always write back and tell them that if they would pay for the plane ticket, I would put them up, act as translator and tour guide, cook for them, and so basically the only expense they would have is getting to me.

Of all the at least one hundred people that said that to me over the seven years I lived in Europe, only two people actually made the trip. The rest allowed something else (in some cases, just about anything else) to interfere. I could only conclude they did not really want to go, but they had no other way to express a kind of vague desire.

"I've got him right where I want him, now that I don't want him." - New Yorker Cartoon
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The Danger of Imprecise Language

When we confuse our language, and use words inappropriately, we begin to interfere with our own success. In the case of the word want, this can have horribly a damaging effect.

If my friend had truly wanted to learn to play piano, nothing would have stopped him from his daily practice, or from nagging me for lessons and help. I would not have to remind him to practice or that he needed to schedule lesson time with me; I would have had to teach him to shut him up.

And when we look at this on a broader scale, this use of the word want to mean something other that what it does, means that we go through life unfulfilled. It means that we have this wishlist of unsought dreams, never tried. And that way lies vast unhappiness. We think we want something, and we don't get it, and that makes us discontent. What most people mean by want is a wistful "wouldn't it be nice if . . ." feeling, rather than a true desire to do something.

The other meaning of the word want makes this abundantly clear. To want something also means to lack or to need something, as in "He died for want of food." That doesn't mean he died because he would like to have food, but he died because he lacked food. Want, in its other sense, is the need to fill that lack.

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Change Your Language, Change Your Life

By simply choosing to use words carefully, we can lead happier lives. Use the word want only if you are willing to go to considerable lengths to get the thing you think you want. Otherwise, find a different word or expression: "I wish it were easy to . . . " is a good place to start.

Being clear about what you actually want will go a long way towards improving your chance of success, and getting rid of that nagging sense of unfulfillment and wasted opportunities. And who knows? "I wish it were easy to . . ." might be the start of a great adventure in problem-solving!

Updated: 01/26/2014, classicalgeek
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Mira on 11/27/2013

I see what you're saying, about the mot juste and a "system of priorities in their language" (loved that). Unfortunately a lot of people just don't pay that much attention to language. I'm often amazed how easy it is to learn a language from certain movies: people talk in prefabricated strings of words. And they just don't take those words apart. Anyway, I really enjoyed your article. Welcome to Wizzley!

classicalgeek on 11/27/2013

Thank you, Abby. My view is that if they don't want the hard work, it's more of an idle fancy than an actual want.

And thank you, Mira. And yes, I often am frustrated because there are not enough hours in the day for all the things I want to achieve. My issue is with language. If you're not taking action towards what you say you want, then you need to choose a different word, because people end up unhappy. They have no way to distinguish between wants, idle fancies, etc., and then because they don't have a system of priorities in their language, they end up unhappy, dissatisfied with themselves, and usually regretting that they didn't follow through. This article is intended as a tool for them to learn to distinguish what they actually want, and help them follow through, and to dismiss the rest.

Mira on 11/27/2013

I love that title, "You Don't Want to Admit It." There is also another thing about wants that my father always reminds me of (and I don't always appreciate it). Some people want more than they can achieve. Meaning they really want the thing, but they are just not capable of reaching that goal. So that's another element to the discussion, I think.

I've always thought that if I aim for 10 things and achieve 7, that's a better deal than aiming for 5 things. Now, you may not be that good at all 7, but if you're happier -- and I am -- than that's fine. Of course, sometimes it can be quite a struggle to juggle 10 plates.

AbbyFitz on 11/26/2013

This was very interesting. I often tell people, if you really want something, you'll find a way to make it happen. I think some people want things, just not the hard work that comes with obtaining it.

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