How do you figure what you want out of life?


My worst fear is to live a life of regret.

In today’s world, it is easy to spend your life blindly pursuing a goal that you never really intended to pursue. Many of us are slaves: slaves to our impulses, slaves to the assumptions of those around us, slaves to the advertisements we are exposed to. Slaves to the extent that we live like rats chasing the next dopamine shot.

Today’s culture has really let us down. Our desires have been reprogrammed. We spend our lives focused on unhealthy goals that others or the worst parts of ourselves have defined. We pass these unhealthy assumptions about life on to our children and loved ones. We reinforce these boring and desperate flaws in everyone we meet. Finally, we find ourselves in an empire whose foundations are total bullshit.

Asking ourselves what we really want can help us avoid all of this. It can help us to see clearly in a world that is sinking. It can help us avoid going down the wrong path. It can also give us the ability to yearn again and have faith in ourselves and our goals.

So then, What do you want ?

Before we can answer this question, let’s try to figure out why it is important.

Seneca, an ancient philosopher of the Stoic school, made the following observation about people of his time who did not bother to find out what they wanted:

“If you ask one of them outside a house, “Where are you going? What’s on your mind? “he’ll say, “I really don’t know, but I’ll see people. I will do something. “They wander aimlessly looking for work, and they don’t do what they want to do, but what they are confronted with. Their wandering is purposeless and useless, like ants crawling on bushes, making their way aimlessly to the highest branch and then back down. Many people live a life like these creatures, and you can’t unfairly call it busy idleness. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yet just a few of us really pay attention to it.

In times of uncertainty and flexibility, like Seneca’s and ours, when everything seems to be chaotic and no one knows what’s going to happen, knowing what you want and being able to reprogram your desires is extremely important. However, moving away from the default settings instilled by genetics and culture to reprogram what you want is not easy. But, it is not impossible either.

In order to achieve a state of personal harmony in wu-wei, the Chinese philosopher Conficius had to perform such reprogramming. Edward Slingerland explains the process of wu-wei action in his book “Trying Not To Try” as follows:

“At the beginning of the training, an aspiring Confucian gentleman needs to memorize entire shelves of archaic texts, learn the precise angle at which to bow, and learn the length of steps with which to enter a room. His floor mat must always be perfectly straight. However, all this rigor and restraint ultimately aims to produce a form of educated, yet authentic spontaneity. Indeed, the training process is only considered complete when the individual has completely overcome the need for thinking or effort. 

In other words, through deliberate actions that at first seem tedious, we finally get to a point where we want what we want.

So, what should we do to find out what we want?

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