in life

That One Simple and Terrifyingly Complex Question: What Do You Want?

What’s my legacy? What’s my contribution? What matters most? These are all questions I’ve asked myself recently, and I’ve asked you, the reader to think critically about.

Not only have you listened, you’ve responded. You’ve acted. I’ve received many emails from you guys thanking me for the push. The push to take action. The push to quit. The push to say “no”. The push to say “yes”. The push to do something that you’ve been wanting to, but didn’t know where, or how to start.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an adult (at least, I think by now I can call myself that – though I’ve never been a fan of the word), it’s that you must be willing to toss the old grade-school message of being selfless out the window. You must learn to be extremely selfish.

It’s not about saying that no one else matters. It isn’t about keeping all the cookies for yourself. It’s about picking up the pen to write your own story, instead of sitting by while others write it for you.

It’s easy to do the latter. To coast by and allow others to tell your tale. It’s much more difficult to take on the role of author. To be the one telling the story. To craft a story that is unexpected, unpredictable, exciting, challenging, and stimulating.

We inherently allow our decision-making to get complicated and confusing. But it doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. When you’re deciding whether or not you should be doing something, whether or not you’re on the right path, if you should say “yes” or “no”, ask yourself, “Do I want to be doing this?”

  • If the answer is yes, hell yes, then do it.
  • If the answer is no, then don’t.

It seems simple because it is. 

Saying yes or no to something is the easy part. It’s the effect and consequence of your answer that gets things all distorted and tricky in our head. It’s easy to give up control and to put the decisions YOU should be making in someone else’s hands. To lose focus on what you want for the sake of someone, or something else.

I love what my friend Berrak had to say a couple months ago:

“…It’s amazing how easy it is for control to slip out of your hands. No one tells you that one of the hardest things you’ll have to do is stay in control of your life because people will meddle. People will continue to have pissing contests all around, and sometimes, on you. You will want to take care of others, letting yourself slip – at all times….”

And she’s right. Control is what we all want, but it’s the easiest thing to let slip.

“…But you can’t just stop making decisions. Your life moves forward with or without you and once you start avoiding the decisions, no matter how hard, you start avoiding your life…”

Being deliberate. Being selfish. Embracing what matters most. It’s the only path to clarity. And ladies and gents, it’s the only way to live.

It starts and ends with one simple and terrifyingly complex question: What do you want?

Add Your Voice



  1. Peopl know what they want, but they don’t know as well. This hunt for the want, I call ‘the hunt for the want bunny!’ It’s there, but you need to know what your looking for and at.
    When you are shown it, you have no choices but it. 
    Yes you have other choices you can make. But our wants drive us, or rather pull us along.
    Life is simple, but never easy.
    Nice article here…Billy

  2. Get out of my head. Seriously, every day this week! Love it.
    My goal for this upcoming month is to say no to things I don’t want to do. Screw my “practical” (aka insane) side for not wanting to turn down money or a project – I can’t, and won’t do it all.

    • I’m a mind reader, didn’t you know? I think us entrepreneurs (does it feel good to be lumped into that group now?) travel on very similar wavelengths – and through my conversation(s) with many people, I know that this question is one that comes up again and again. Sometimes for me, it takes a conversation with someone else, my wife, a friend, to help me discover what I want, even though it’s almost always sitting right in front of me. 

      What you mentioned here is the single most difficult dilemma for any entrepreneur, especially starting out. I’ll be honest, I never said “no” to a project when I first started – and while I made a lot of money and worked with a lot of people, I was SEVERELY overworked and it had a dramatic impact on my relationships, health, and overall sanity. Be smart about it, but don’t feel obligated to say “yes” to everything, as tempting as the $$$ may be.

  3. I definitely agree that if you ask yourself whether you want to do something and the answer is yes or no, act accordingly. Too often we hold ourselves back out of fear, guilt or obligation. Those aren’t appropriate motivators.

    On the flip side, I don’t know that being ‘selfish’ is the right way to view the situation either. I don’t think it’s selfish to pursue my dreams and goals, as long as I’m not hurting anyone else (purposely – we all hurt people unwittingly now and then). That said, when I make choices about my life, I have to take into account their effect on others: my son and my family, specifically. We’re such relational creatures, I think our Western focus on individualism (aka selfishness) is flawed to some extent.

    In general, trusting one’s instinct is usually the ‘right’ way to go – not that I think there’s really a right or wrong in most of these cases. You have to do what gives you peace in the moments you’re in; what decisions let you sleep soundly at night. You also have to consider the long-term implications of your decision. 

    Personally, what I want is fluid, and often depends on the opportunities that are presented to me – some of which I shape and others that are beyond my control. It’s my values, and my character that should hold the test of time. My motto is this: “Work hard, treat others how you’d want to be treated, and everything else will work out as it should.” 

    • Bryna! LONG time no see. How the heck are you? I hope all is well.

      I agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s a VERY delicate line between being “selfish” and going after what you want vs. taking into account how your actions will impact other people. Of course, with every decision I make, I consider how it will impact my wife, my family, my career – but if I let everyone else define what I want for me, I’d end up not pursuing what matters most to ME. 

      That, I think, is the complication many run into. Worrying so much about everyone else, whether it is justified or in many cases, not, and letting the wants and needs of others ALWAYS come before your own. 
      Certainly a lot to think about – and your “motto” is excellent. We’d all be so lucky if everyone thought and felt the same. :)

    • “In general, trusting one’s instinct is usually the ‘right’ way to go”

      I’ve found this to be true most of the time. Sometimes, when looking back at a situation, I find that if I’d gone with my gut feeling, it would’ve had a better end result.

  4. When the person I get my daily inspiration from quotes me in his blog ,I think that’s the ultimate compliment.

    I’m still battling with this. Every day.

    I’ve been asking myself what I want daily for the last couple of months.  The answers are scary because of what I’ll have to do in order to achieve it but I’m almost 27 and I need to actually start living my life for me.

    At the end of the day, that requires a little selfishness on my part.

    Great post, as always.

    • Thank YOU for providing the inspiration, Berrak. Your take was timely and makes a helluva lot of sense. We do need to be selfish. We need to allow ourselves the opportunity to take on what we want and not be constantly concerned with what we’re supposed to do. 

      I re-read something I wrote a couple years ago here that said “When you live by the rules, you limit your potential”. Those words, my own words, resonated with me. It’s easy to forget, it’s easy to lose control and fall into the trap of letting the “rules” and what others think is best drive you – but clinging to and maintaining control, starting by deciding what you want (most) is absolutely critical to living the life you want. :)

  5. i still often don’t know what i want! so this whole ‘lifestyle business’ is indeed frightening and the ultimate responsibility. it’s entirely worth it though. i often deduce what i want by figuring out what it is i DON’T want. i have to experience and try things out.. it might be the roundabout ‘long way’ to figure it out but life is in the journey, not the destination.

  6. I love this post! I’ve been trying really hard to do that and focus on creating my new business (dog training biz to help dogs & their humans to communicate better), which I’m really psyched about! I really need to keep in mind “embrace what matters most.” :)

  7. Matt, I’ll keep it short and sweet. I want to leave a legacy. Not some grandiose one that has cities flying flags at half-mast. I want something like the character of Edward Bloom in Big Fish. I want to have so many life stories and lessons that they become the memory of who I am. Stories that are kept in the family and shared generation after generation. 

    If nothing else, I want the legacy of knowing that 50 years after an interaction/experience with a student they can tell the young people around them about the one teacher who changed their minds and pushed them into a path they never knew existed. But the real legacy would be, that person telling the story, being THAT person for that group of people. For an analogy, if this makes sense, I want to be the apple tree that spreads the seeds that turns an open field into an orchard. 

    The best part about this is that it is not limited to my job. You can make a difference to someone everyday, you just need a random act of kindness/caring in most cases.Here is to the old man who once told me on an early Saturday morning as I was leaving the campus center and held the door open for him and his wife. He stopped in the doorway, turned to me and said, “Why thank you son, I hope someone is as kind to you today as you were to us.” And he walked off. Never saw him again, never got a name. That single interaction is one I think of maybe once a week as I hold doors open and most people walk through without saying thanks. Or when I’m at a store and the cashier is kind or is bored. I start conversation, try to get a laugh, and go on with my day always saying, “thanks for the service, have a good one.” No one can control how you interact with other people. If you want to make a difference, what is stopping you?

    • Well said, Joseph. Those little, what may seem ordinary and routine actions can and do have a dramatic impact. Like you, I can think about this one philosophy teacher I had in college who’s words stick with me, even today. Or the one waiter who went above and beyond at dinner. It’s those little things that prove that anyone can have an impact. Everyone can make a difference to someone. 

  8. Wow wow wow, can I just say that I am going through a major life change (a few actually) and I loved this post!  It really hit home for me and reaffirmed my newfound outlook on life.   I especially loved your quote from your friend Berrak – I’ve always had a hard time being selfish, I’ve managed to put a lot of people before me for a long time. 
    I’ve been asking myself the same kind of questions, going through that ubiquitous soul search, trying to figure out what I want in my life.  I always believed I was in control of my journey, but I really wasn’t.  Now that I know what I want, and know that I want it for me, the feeling of being in control is refreshing, invigorating and really exciting!

    I can say that I am a new fan of your wordplay and perspectives.  Great post!

    • I love that you call it “wordplay” – it makes me sound all sophisticated. :)

      It sounds like you’ve really gotten yourself to a great place of understanding what you want. Now the key is to go out there, make shit happen, and work on giving yourself what you want, and what you deserve, day in and day out. Cheers, Jennee!

  9. Matt, I always said, “You don’t HAVE to do anything.”  But every action (or inaction) has consequences.  If you can deal with that, you CAN do anything you want.  But sometimes writing a good story, involves NOT doing what YOU want.  But doing what is in the best interest of others and causes you sacrifice.  That’s living an even BETTER story.

  10. Thanks for this post. Very timely for me. I am making some directional changes and have been taking in other people’s reactions to those changes until today when I realized – “this life is no one else’s but mine.” a simple realization but important.

    • Yes. Sometimes the simplest “realizations” are the hardest to see. If you don’t have control of anything else – the one thing you can always control are the choices you make. Cheers!