This Week in Intentional Living (2/12)

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

– Jesus of Nazareth

“Greed is good.”

– Gordon Gecko

Understand what you want.

I know, I keep tossing out these obvious statements.  But it’s not really so obvious, is it?

As important as it is to understand what you already have, you’re a human being.  And human beings want things.  Stuff.  Status.  Respect.  More stuff.  Etc.

Every religious and/or wisdom tradition I know of will tell you the same thing as the Jesus quote above:  Leave your stuff behind.  Let go of your status.  Relinquish what you treasure and store up spiritual treasure instead.

And that is something to which we should all aspire.

But that Gordon Gecko character was a pretty accurate representation of the direction most of us take instead of following that advice.  No, most of us aren’t nearly as egregious in our pursuit of conspicuous consumption as the bad guy from Wall Street, but we’re all a little reassured when we hear somebody say something like that.

Let me reassure you a little more:  It’s OK to be a little materialistic.  We live in this world, not the spiritual one.  I’m not saying you should dream of slicking-back your hair and walking down the beach with an old Motorola brick-phone, or that you should in any other way hold the Gordon Gecko character in high esteem.

I’m saying that Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi … guys like that are pretty rare.  You’re not one of them and you’re not going to be.  Neither am I.  Some pretty amazing people have lived pretty fulfilling lives while still living in this materialistic world to one degree or another. Aspire to leaving it all behind, but recognize that you live in this world and strike a balance.

So, having established that, let’s talk about recognizing and understanding exactly what it is we want.  For instance, I’m kinda thirsty and want a glass of water right now.

I’m kidding.  I actually am a little thirsty, but I hope you know that’s not the level of “want” I’m talking about here.

You’ve thought about where you are, who you are, what you have, I hope.  What is it you want?  What do you want to have?  Where do you want to be?  Who do you want to be?

Tomorrow, next week, next year, a decade from now?

It’s one thing to say, “I want a new house.”  It’s entirely a different thing to understand what house you want, why you want it and how you intend to get it.

It’s one things to say, “I want a master’s degree.”  It’s entirely a different thing to understand why you want it and how that process is going to work.

(And yes, those are both personal examples.  Feel free to insert your own.)

Here’s the thing:  Most of what we “want” … we just think we want.  When we take the time to be intentional about our desires, to understand them instead of leaping into a full-blown plan to achieve them, it’s amazing how often we learn we don’t really want them after all.

Let’s talk cars as an example.  For a long time I was really certain about the kinds of vehicles I wanted.  Then I started actually thinking about what I want in a car.  It’s really so much simpler than I used to believe:  A car needs to get me from Point A to Point B safely, reliably, comfortably and inexpensively with some degree of style.  I need room for a couple of car seats in the back, three if possible.

That’s it.  I don’t need a particular logo on the hood.  I don’t need extra storage space – I don’t haul stuff – and I don’t need a great big engine.  I’ve owned relatively fast cars, and you know what?  I never had the chance to drive them fast.

So I drive a Honda Civic.  A hybrid.  Cheap, safe, reliable, decent-looking, and with exactly as much space as I need.  I can only fit two car seats in the back, but we have a family minivan when all five of us are headed to the same place.

I spent a lot of money on Thunderbirds, Mustangs and Explorers buying my understanding of what I want in a vehicle.

Maybe a big or fast car is what you want.  That’s great – as long you understand the desire.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting whatever car you want.  There is something wrong with not being intentional and honest with yourself about the why’s and how’s of the process.

Understand what you want.

It applies to every major desire in your life.  Maybe the minor ones as well.

I can’t stress enough that there’s nothing wrong with wanting stuff, status, etc.  We’re humans.  We’re kind of hard-wired to a certain amount of need for accumulation.

What’s wrong is accumulation for the sake of accumulation, whether it be stuff, degrees, memberships, relationships or anything else.

Aspire to better than that.  Aspire to not wanting anything at all.

But start with understanding what you want and let it flow from there.

Now, about that glass of water …

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