From “Want” to “Will-Work-For”

Dear Daughters,

Earlier this week, one of you told me, “I want to have a yacht when I grow up.” Minutes later, another of you said, “I want the dogs to listen to me like they listen to you.” Not long after that, two of you told me, “we want to get a gym membership because we want to ‘get ripped’.”

This whirlwind of wants prompted me to think about one of the more important distinctions in life: the distinction between a “want” and a “will-work-for.” The basic difference between the two is obvious: while we all want a lot of things, we’re only willing to work for a few of them. Where wants are basically surface-level longings, will-work-fors run much deeper.

I may well want a cup of coffee one minute and a can of beer the next (parenting can drive desire for either). But put even a minor barrier–say, a trip to the store–between me and my would-be beverage, and the real depth of my desire becomes clear. No beer in the fridge at the moment? Okay. That want can wait.

Will-work-fors are different. They inspire us to accept a level of pain on their behalf, to sacrifice something else we like. They aren’t just momentary spikes of longing; they’re desires that shape our behavior. At the extreme, they can even structure our lives.

For example, I don’t just want to provide for my family, I’m willing to work for it–and so I go off to my job every day. And I want to provide more than money, so I work to find time to spend with each of you, to make it to your events, and (of course) to write you little missives like this one.

In fact, it’s fair to say that you girls and your mother are my main will-work-fors. Your well-being provides a measure against which I weigh my other wants (and often find them wanting).

The point here is not that I’m constantly suffering for your sakes. On the contrary, I’m generally fine with giving up other things to provide for you. Doing so is a sacrifice on one level, but on another it’s my pleasure: it’s not just what I want; it’s what I’m willing to work for.

The point, really, is that we can each measure what matters to us by how hard we’re willing to work for it. This can come in handy in life when you start saying things to yourself like “I want a yacht,” or “I want to get ripped.” Those are both things you can certainly have, as long as they’re will-work-fors as opposed to momentary wants.

Maybe even more importantly, thinking about wants and will-work-fors can also teach us about our deeper desires, the life-structuring longings that shape our behavior but sometimes go unnoticed. Not only can we ask ourselves, “How hard am I willing to work for x?” We can also ask “What is it that I willingly work for already? And why?”

Considering the latter question can lead us back to what matters most: the people we truly love and the pursuits that nourish our souls. For me, that’s you (and, again, writing little missives like this one). What is it for you? Where–and for whom–will you gladly spend your time and energy? Figure that out and you’ll know much more than merely what you want at the moment.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to get back to my coffee.

Till next time …

I love you,

Dad

 

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