What You Really Want May Not Be What You Think.

Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman didn’t always want to be an actor. As a young black man growing up in the American South in the 1950’s, you can imagine that he wasn’t starting out with the best of advantages. But that didn’t deter him, because what he wanted more than anything, was to become a fighter pilot. 

He joined the US Air Force at age 16, as an engineer, and studied and worked hard until finally, at age 21, he was given the opportunity he’d dreamed of for so long – to train as a pilot. Given the prejudice and barriers in place at that time, this was an incredible achievement. But as he sat in the cockpit of the plane for the first time, a transformation came over him. A fundamental change took place. This wasn’t what he wanted at all.

Freeman realised that he was sitting in a machine designed specifically to kill and destroy. That would be his job – his role in life. And that wasn’t the idea he’s fallen in love with. What Freeman had fallen in love with was some Hollywoodesque notion of what a fighter pilot was and represented – how they were seen, perceived and treated. He wanted to play the role of a fighter pilot, but without having to do what a fighter pilot does. He walked out on the US Air Force that day and never went back.

Here’s another story. I suspect this one isn’t true, but it further illustrates the point I’m hoping to make.

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his catch. “How long did it take you to get those?” he asked. “Not so long,” said the Mexican. “Then why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was quite enough to meet his needs and feed his family.

“So what do you do with the rest of your time?” asked the American. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evening, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs. I have a full life.” 

The American interrupted. “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?” asked the Mexican. “With the extra money the bigger boat will bring, you can buy a second boat and then a third boat, and then more until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants. Pretty soon you could open your own plant. You could leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York! From there you could direct your whole enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican. “Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American. “And after that?” mused the fisherman.

“Afterwards? Well, my friend,” laughed the American, “that’s when it gets really interesting. When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” said the Mexican. “After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a beautiful place near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take siestas with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

We all have goals and aspirations. We often spend years dreaming about them and working towards them, but without giving a great deal of thought to the key questions…

Why do I WANT this? Do I REALLY want this?

These are uncomfortable questions because they get right to the heart of who we are, what really motivates us, and what we really want out of life.

Morgan Freeman discovered that he didn’t actually want to be a fighter pilot, he’d just bought into a myth about what a pilot was and wanted the status, prestige and standing that a pilot enjoyed. The Mexican fisherman realised what the American tourist couldn’t yet see… that he already had what great wealth would bring – the time and freedom to live exactly as he pleased. He didn’t need to invest the 20 years of blood, sweat and tears to become wealthy to get the benefits he wanted. So what about you?

What are you dreaming about or working towards? If it’s a particular business or career, do you really want to go into that business or career? Or when you think deeply about it, are you doing it to garner some social or financial benefits that you feel will come with it. And if that’s the case, is there some (perhaps easier or more palatable) way you can enjoy these same benefits without spending a huge portion of your irreplaceable life working towards something you don’t really want?

Morgan Freeman discovered his outlet through acting. The Mexican fisherman was smart enough to realise that he already had what he wanted. Very few people do this – unless they happen to be fictional characters, created to make an important point! So again, what about you? 

What do you really want? Is it to be at the top of the ladder you’re currently climbing? And even if it is, might there be another ladder somewhere else that gets you exactly where you want to be without the steep climb or the feeling of vertigo when you get to the top. These are questions that only you can answer, but I hope I’ve at least given you a reason to ask them.

Kind Regards

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John Harrison  


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