The want behind the want

Life & Work

People are complicated. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nothing is black and white. There are many layers to the decisions people make, and there are many forces at work that we’re not even aware of in our own decision-making.

As a web designer, the classic example is “I want a new website.”

I don’t mind this question—I see it as an opportunity. Because I know that nobody truly wants a new website. A new website doesn’t do anything for anyone.

There’s a want behind the want, though, and it’s my job to help a potential client discover what that is. She may not even know until we dig further. And it’s different for everyone!

Even similar outcomes can be different. Person A’s motivation for the new site might be “make more money,” while Person B’s could be drastically more specific, like “Convert 5% more business this year than last year.” Same (ultimate) result, but a different means of getting there.

This matters because of expectations. Person B has specific expectations for the results they see and the process of getting there. Person A is easier to satisfy. But how will you know whom you’re dealing with if you don’t get to the want behind the want?

Two more examples:

I don’t recommend psychoanalyzing other people. You shouldn’t be trying to guess at their “want behind the want” without their say-so. But knowing the basic fact that this deeper level of wanting exists will allow you to have conversations with people to draw that out.

Many arguments and disagreements within our relationships are a result of failed expectations, which is ultimately a failure to understand what the other person truly wants. And like I said, they may not even know how to verbalize this to tell you. It’s nobody’s fault, just human nature.

But you can ask. You can (carefully) dig deeper to try to understand what is motivating someone to behave a certain way, say or feel certain things, etc.

I do recommend psychoanalyzing yourself. Take yourself to task. Ask why. Be willing to admit what you truly want out of a situation. There’s no shame in that; all you’re doing is being honest with yourself.

Lay your cards on the table when you’re in negotiations, whether inside your noggin or with a third party. State the facts, own them, and take action based on them.

Also, realizing there’s a want behind your wants is a great way to cut the fluff out of your life and stop filling your life with worthless substitutions.

Want to make money? Or do you really just want to look like you’re making more money? Because if it’s the latter, ironically, you’ll spend money (and therefore have less) on things you only think you want to impress people you don’t even like. The things you do to make more money have virtually zero to do with the things you do to look like you make more money.

A hard truth, but true nonetheless.

Getting at the real wants is what leads you to take action. One more example, I can’t help it.

I decided in 2016, when my first son was born, that I wanted—truly wanted—to be able to work from home. So I set a 5-year goal. Did I want to go on a nice vacation? Sure. Did I want to drive a nicer car? Absolutely? Did I want my family to be in a bigger home? You betcha.

But the real want behind all those superficial things was the ability to do life on my terms. To be home while my kids were growing up. To see them more than many other daddies get to see their kids.

Missioned accomplished.

That want was worth fighting for in a way the others never could have been. And I made different decisions because of it. No regrets.

Find the want behind the want, and you’ll find the way.

Mar 26, 2024

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Hey, I'm Steve — a Christian, entrepreneur, thinker, and creator. Thanks for stopping by!

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