Is What We Say We Want, Really What We Want?

Originally published 6/9/10

Not meaning to be too philosophical, or anything, but do our words accurately reflect how we feel, or do we say what we think others want us to feel, and our actions point to our true interests and intentions?

When I decided all those years ago (when I was 15, I think), that I wanted to be a "captain of industry", I was absolutely certain that it was my dream. I had just read Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" and was inspired. I wanted to be Hank Reardon or Francisco d'Anconia (I hope I remembered the names correctly -- its been a few years) -- a hero of the modern economy, who would, through my own sweat and intellect, make the world a better place.

I told everybody that was what I wanted to do, and I did take positive actions to make it happen. I studied Engineering. My original idea was to get into alternative energy, but I decided that it wasn't practical (Compromise!), and instead headed toward the convenience of the automotive field. I went to business school, and moved employers, but when I made my decisions, I stuck with safe, big, public companies. I moved along the career ladder, but started to doubt that the top spot really would fulfill my dream. I became too conservative (or chicken) to take the plunge into my own business.

But was the dream really what I wanted, or was all the compromises and shifts in perspective an indication that the dream wasn't really a legit dream at all? Did I reach for a dream and have it evaporate like a mirage?

One way to explore that is to look at what I spent my time on, when not working or otherwise obligated. I wrote -- figured that one out already. I loved to read. Escapist fiction is one thing, but I also loved true stories of survival and discovery. I also would read semi-technical stuff, like in Scientific American, because I like to understand how things work, but am not terribly interested in the detailed math behind it. I love to travel, meet new people, experience different cultures and see sights. I enjoy physical challenge -- running, hiking, mountain climbing, rafting -- but maybe in a weird way -- I like the personal challenge of testing myself, but not the risk/danger that seems to drive some other people to some of these same activities.

I also discovered a few things I like okay, but didn't have staying power with me. Golf for example -- like it but I don't actually do it much. Scuba diving, fishing, hunting. A lot of these activities are fun for me because of the companionship, and the act itself is less interesting. Once the novelty wears off....

So, do we really know what we want, and can we articulate it? I'm spending more and more time, trying to watch what draws me, what gets me excited, what is interesting. I hope to set myself on a truer path using those observations.