The Right and Wrong Way of Pursuing Your Dream

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“Desires are only the lack of something: and those who have the greatest desires are in a worse condition than those who have none, or very slight ones.”- Plato.

The pursuit of desire is a very tricky subject.

Too much and it will burn you with obsession, too little and you will not get what you want.

How many times have we seen one man’s or woman’s obsession to achieve something great end up hurting them?

These people sacrificed their health, family, friendships, happiness on the altar of success; believing that eventually, the end will justify the means, but they ended up miserable, lonely and sad…

Or consider the old cynics who live a very sedentary lifestyle, asking you why you worked so hard to achieve X when everything you do will eventually be pointless.

As annoying as those people sounded, they are actually pretty spot on on this subject.

Psychologists have proven that the fulfillment of one desire usually only create a gaping emptiness that should be filled with another bigger desire. They concluded that human beings can never get satisfied with life.

Of course becoming a cynic and killing your own desire is also not a good idea. I’m sure you don’t want to be them…

What then should we do?

The answer is to have a healthy attitude when dealing with desire.

According to stoic writer William B. Irvine, this can be done by understanding human trichotomy of control. To differentiate what is actually within our control, what is beyond our control and what is partially within our control.

Most people think that the pursuit desire is fully within their control. Work hard, spend enough time, and voila, you will get what you want. However, this is usually not the case.

The fulfillment of a desire is not just a matter of hard work or preparation, but also a matter of luck and being at the right place at the right time. (The book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell illustrated this ideas beautifully, go read it!)

Consider for instance, the success of certain products, company or movement: The Harry Potter Series, the success of Virgin Group or the success of Startups. If you looked at the history of these incidents, you will see the hand of luck behind them all.

Thus, when we talk about pursuing certain desires, we should proceed with caution.

William B. Irvine, the stoic writer urged us to ‘set up internal goals instead of an external one.’ That means pursuing the desire with certain detachment and avoid making external goals that are clearly not fully within your control.

This means that if you have a desire to win a Tennis match, instead of focusing on winning the match, which is not entirely within your control (you don’t know your opponent, the referee, etc.), you should focus instead on your preparations (which are fully within your control). Practice really hard, give it your best, and play to your bestest ability during the match.

But also remember that those too sometimes are not good enough, that even after all those practices, you still can lose to a better player.

The point is to shift your external goals into internal ones.

Instead of winning a tennis match you want to practice and play to my best abilities.

Instead of creating a successful startup, you want to innovate and serve your customers to your best ability.

Instead of getting a life partner you want to show your love in a unique and different way.

Focus on what is within your control.

But, how can I achieve my goals with that kind of ‘happy go lucky’ mindset? Good question. It’s a question that I will answer on my next ‘live’ post. So stay tuned!


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Magnus lives in Semarang, Indonesia. He is currently managing the family's business together with his dad and his elder brother. Magnus enjoys reading and recently he started writing his personal reflections.

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