Desire Is Dangerous in Business But Playing It Safe Is No Alternative

“Do you want what you want or only what you want to want?”

Did your head just spin around like you were doing an audition for the Exorcist? Yeah, mine did too, and I’m the source of the sound bite. I said that to a client some years ago and both of our heads about snapped off our shoulders. But it stuck with me, and I challenge myself with it when I feel muddled, unmotivated or like I'm losing momentum.

It sounds like nonsense doesn’t it? "Do you want what you want?" Well, DUH. If I didn’t want it then it wouldn’t be what I wanted, would it?

But for most of us, what we say we want isn’t really "it." I don’t mean we lie to other people, I mean we deceive ourselves.

Related: The One Tool You Need for Success? A Mirror.

For instance, you probably say you want money. But do a quick thought experiment with me. Close your eyes and imagine I’m knocking on your door right now. When you let me in I’m dragging a heavy case. Together we lift it up onto your desk or table, and I open it to reveal $1,000,000 in one dollar bills. Are you excited?  

It’s yours, I tell you, with only this restriction; you can’t spend it, you can’t invest it, and you can’t give it away. But if you agree to those terms it’s all yours. Every single dollar of it.

How excited are you now? Are you seeing how lovely it will look papering your office? Are you imagining laying your head on a pillow stuffed with one dollar bills? No? I’m sorry. I thought you wanted money.

Money, you see, is simply a means to an end. A representation of value. For you it may represent status or security, self-worth or freedom. But, unless you have unusual tastes in decor, I sincerely doubt you want money.

One of my favorite quotes from the best-selling book, The Go-Giver, by Bob Burg and John David Mann, is this:

“Does it make money?’ is not a bad question. It’s a great question. It’s just a bad first question. It starts you off pointed in the wrong direction.”

Related: There Are 8 Indispensable Elements of Real Wealth and 7 Aren't Money

If your first question is “Will it make money?” you might hatch a lot of great business ideas, but they’ll ultimately fail because you aren’t focused on delivering value to the people whose money you’re hoping to attract. More than that, those businesses will likely fail you, because you’re focused on pursuing what you think you want, and you might not even notice that you aren’t getting what you really want.

For most of us, “want” is a field of pre-programmed land mines.

Take a stake, label it “DESIRE,” stick it in the ground, and see what happens.

If we dare to say aloud what we really want, laying our deepest desires out all naked for anyone to see, we’re bound to be ridiculed. Someone, often with the kindest intentions, is likely to suggest that we not get too attached to wanting it, because it’s not really likely that it’s going to come within reach. Or maybe someone will remind you of all the circumstances that would have to change before you could have what you want. You'll be reminded of all the people who've tried and failed, or all the times you've tried and failed. Or someone will mention all the people who might get hurt if you pursue what you want. Or maybe your deepest desire doesn’t seem so large to someone else and, meaning to be empowering, they tell you that you aren’t dreaming big enough.

But, if you just keep crossing that war zone, going after what you said you wanted, and you make one mention of frustration with your progress, or if you miss the brass ring that time around on the merry-go-round, there is bound to be at least one person who tells you while nodding sagely, “If you really want to do something you’ll find a way, if you don’t you’ll find an excuse.”

So how do we pursue, or even figure out, what we really want without detonating the land mines?

You can put your stake in a neutral zone. Just look for a narrow space, already bristling with long-abandoned stakes and labeled on the map as “just challenging enough to be impressive but just proven enough to be achievable.”

Do your deepest desires live in that no-man’s-land? I doubt it. I doubt that even more than I doubt that you really want money.

So if no one told you what you should want, or what you're allowed to want, what would you want?

That’s where you put your stake.

Related: How to See (Clearly) What You Want to Accomplish