What do you *really* want? | Also, kayfabe

Thinking Out Loud No. 40

By the way, there’s an excellent YouTube video at the end on the subject of Kayfabe (How Politics Became Pro Wrestling), so even if you skip the somewhat self-indulgent bit of writing below, I do encourage you to watch the video!

Hi everyone,

I made a very difficult decision this week to remove something important from my life (nothing majorly life changing, fear not).

I will share more about this when it’s appropriate to do so, but for now I want to talk a little about wanting things.

My relationship with ‘wanting things’ has always been complicated, in that I rarely know what I want. I sometimes come across people who seem to have strong and unambiguous preferences, people who wouldn’t find it strange to say “yes, of course I want that thing.”

I’m largely okay with this on the short term and for small things. I want to go to that restaurant tonight. I want to go on holiday to that place. That’s all fine.

What I’m not so okay with is the big ‘life decision’ stuff. I want that kind of job. I want to have children. I want to buy a house. None of this has ever been clear or easy for me.

The thing about a busy professional career is that it gives you something to do that isn’t sitting with the fact that you don’t know what you want. Not only that, but everyone understands and lauds you for your busy-ness — and none more so than colleagues. The edifice has to be maintained, after all.

Look at the people who live to retire, and put those savings away. And then when they're sixty-five, and they don't have any energy left, they're more or less impotent, they go and rot in an old people's "senior citizens" community.

Because we've simply cheated ourselves, the whole way down the line. We thought of life by analogy was a journey, was a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end. And the thing was to get to that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you're dead.

But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played

Except from “The Hoax” by Alan Watts

Important note: this is not intended as a judgement. I can absolutely see how living a life dedicated to work is a perfectly okay thing to want if you know you want it. I’m talking as much to my past self, though if you see quiet concerns of your own reflected here then I’ll just leave the word “interesting” hanging in the air.

And to a large extent, for ten years at least, that was me. Nearly, but not entirely.

One thing I did have was this early and incessantly gnawing sense that I didn’t want that. I didn’t know the way out, but I was stuck trying to figure out what I wanted within the frame of jobs.

“So what job do you want, Michael?”

“I don’t know!”

In the end, the way I got out was driven by the the same energy that got me stuck recently: doing all the things.

When you don’t really know what you want, it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to EVERYTHING. Every opportunity, every hobby, every morsel of possibility that life sends you. I have always been ‘side hustling’ or ‘learning’ around school, university and work.

That’s how I became an Alexander Technique teacher. That’s how I became a decent writer. That’s how I became a coach. That’s how I figured out a home YouTube setup.

Oh, will you look at that? My habit of saying yes to all the things because I don’t know what I want is how I got out of the job cycle.

Great! Except…

I quit my job and immediately the “I don’t like this!!!” screaming in my brain went away. But almost as quickly the quieter background hum that it had been drowning out came back. “I still don’t know what I want.”


The way I managed this (entirely unconsciously, on reflection), was to default back to my old coping mechanism — the coping mechanism that worked to get me out of the job, I might add — to do all the things! And this is how my calendar filled up with stuff and me feeling busy. And busy is most certainly not what I’m going for here.

It’s taken me a couple of months to recalibrate, but I’m seeing this more clearly now, and I’m trying a new approach, that of the via negativa.

‘The Negative Way’, of speaking of God. The proponents of this way believe that God is so beyond all human comprehension that it is only possible for humans to describe what He is not, never to attempt to speak of His true nature. – Wordreference

Let’s say, for whatever reason, I don’t know what I want. Fine.

But I sure has hell can develop my taste for and understanding of what I don’t want. And perhaps, once all the things I don’t want are removed, the things I do want will remain.

So that’s what I’m going to be exploring for a while. As Derek Sivers says: it’s either Hell Yeah or No.

I’m going to be saying ‘No’ a lot more to allow space for the ‘Hell Yeah’.

How Politics Became Pro Wrestling

Some of you who are also on Twitter may have come across Jake Orthwein (now is an excellent time to follow him if not).

Well, he’s just released one of the best video essays I’ve ever seen, and it’s on the subject of ‘kayfabe’ — the interweaving of fact and fiction that underpins professional wrestling, as well as, it turns out, politics.

I highly recommend this 10 minute video on the topic as it explains so much of the weirding that’s been going on in the political sphere recently. It also explains pro wrestling, which I admit never made sense until I learned about kayfabe.

Incidentally, this is Jake’s first video on his channel, which I suspect is going to blow up in a big way. Do consider subscribing!

That’s all from me this week - until next time.