You Can Have Anything You Want
You can also be anything you want
America is very much a ‘can do’ society. Or it likes to think it is. No matter how humble your beginnings are, you can hustle and use your smarts to achieve the ‘American Dream’.
There is a dark side to this, and it is outlined very well in Michael Sandel’s new book The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common good?
Sandel argues it is simply not true that you can rise to great heights from modest origins. There may be isolated cases of this happening but, statistically speaking, it is so rare that we can confidently state that the idea is a myth.
But the belief that it not only can, but actually does, happen is widespread and it is inspiring. It also has a huge downside.
It motivates persons to improve their lot, to work hard so that they can ‘get ahead’.
It also leads those who ‘win’ to believe that they did it on their own and ‘deserve’ the largesse bestowed on them. It then leads them to believe that those who ‘lose’ are undeserving because they did not ‘work hard enough’ or lacked talent and smarts and education or some combination of these.
Those who do not ‘win’ also believe the same and the blow to their self-esteem frequently leads them into chemical and emotional dependency. So called ‘deaths of despair’ are soaring as a result.
And this toxic brew leads to populist upsurge and political upheaval.
I would like to suggest a different way of viewing the world.
You can have everything you want.
You just cannot have it at level one.
Problems and disappointments arise because everyone is exhorted to set goals and achieve them at level one. And, because of this, there are winners and losers and those who feel triumphant and those who are disconsolate and all manner of discord.
I am not arguing that society, as it is now, is perfect and does not need radical restructuring. Glaring inequalities and bigotry and prejudice in various forms do need to be addressed. This is beyond the scope of this piece.
I am arguing that your life will improve considerably if you strive to achieve what you want not just at level one but also at deeper levels.
Let me explain what I mean.
Let’s say you really want to be a Wimbledon Singles Tennis Champion.
At level one this means that you do win that title and it is going to be mighty tough unless you are Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams or Naomi Osaka.
Level two asks you why you want to be a Wimbledon Singles Champion. What does this mean to you?
Are you trying to prove yourself to your dad who told you that you would never make it to the big leagues and to study accounting instead?
Do you want the prize money and endorsements, so you feel financially secure?
Do you want to be famous? To have persons ask you for your autograph and recognize and point you out when you are out for a casual stroll?
Then go deeper to level three. Why do you want to show up your dad? Will you really feel financially secure? Why do you wish to be famous?
You can go down many more levels but, in my experience, level three or four is more than enough for the vast majority of persons.
You do not really want the thing you think you want.
You want the feeling you will have when you get it, and you would like this to be a lasting feeling.
More precisely, you want the feeling that you think you will have when you get what you are striving for.
When you reason in this manner, you see that you can pursue what you want at level one and, simultaneously, at level two and deeper.
And then you really can have anything you want. And everything you want.
Think about this.