This is a story about you.
One afternoon this holiday season, you're rummaging through your basement for holiday decorations when you come across a dusty oil lamp in a box underneath the stairs. Quizzically, you use your sleeve to rub off the years of dust which have collected on the relic's surface. As you begin to recognize your own reflection in its newly polished exterior, a whiff of smoke begins pouring from the lamp, which fills the room.
You fall backward in terror as the form of a giant, magnificent, all-powerful genie materializes before you.
The ground rumbles as the genie peers at you through dark, forbidding eyes, and thunderously roars, "Who, before me, has dared to awaken me from my slumber?!?"
"I'm so sorry. I meant no harm. I was just ... " you reply, before being interrupted.
"Bearer of the Lamp! I, Genie, all-powerful and accursed, have been forced across the ages to do the bidding of whomever is in possession of this lamp. As your immortal servant, I am doomed never to rest again before the deepest of your desires have been fulfilled," bemoans the genie.
"I will grant you THREE wishes. Tell me, now, Lamp Bearer, tell me what you desire so that I may sleep again!"
"Huh?" you reply, still trying to wrap your mind around the circumstances.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT?!?" demands the genie.
You pause for an instant, and in that moment, you realize you've got a problem. You have no words.
It's a common dilemma– I suffer from it as well. Right now, I'm hungry and eyeing a snack-sized package of Cheez-Its in my kitchen pantry. My daughter is home sick, and I'm hoping she starts feeling better soon. Those are two things I would like right at this very moment. But if I had your opportunity, that of an almighty wish-granter taking up residence in my basement, I don't think I'd ask for either of those things.
I also want to take a vacation.
Actually, I'd like a vacation home.
Oh, and I want a jet. A jet with a pilot and insurance and everything. A hanger at the airport, all the necessary regulatory licenses, etc. (You know what I mean.)
Gosh, now that I think about it –there are lots of things I want. Actually, some of the things I want I'm not so sure about. Some things I think I want, I don't actually want.
(As Garth Brooks once lamented in tune, "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.")
So now we begin to discover a big reason why people don't get what they want in life, they simply don't know what they want.
And what’s the reason they don't know what they want? They don't take the time to think about it.
People assume that they know what they want, and this is a huge mistake. If you were to write down the five things you want most in your entire life right now, I promise you that one week from today you'd have a hard time remembering them all and writing them down again on a napkin.
As humans, memory isn't a forte of ours. We aren't good at keeping lists, and not particularly adept at prioritizing. When something absolutely must get done in order to survive, our body does it for us–our unconscious minds beat our hearts, control our breathing, and regulate the blood sugar content in our veins. When our bodies need food, we are reminded with hunger. When we need to go to the bathroom, we're prompted with squirminess. At the most basic level, we are but a collection of trillions of cells stuck together, who use pain and restlessness as motivation to pursue sustenance.
Once those needs have been met, however, we are incarnated as people in a society, wanting to be loved, appreciated, respected, and living our lives to their highest and fullest potential.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a pilot (a fighter pilot because I’d seen Top Gun). As a teenager I wanted to be a musician, probably to impress girls. As an adult, my deepest and most lasting desire is to be a good father.
Enough about me, though, this is a story about you.
We need to figure out what YOU want.
"Genie," you gently reply, "you must accept my apologies. For I was unaware of your visit today and find myself ashamedly unprepared. I require time to search my feelings before giving you an answer. Might I humbly request you return to your chamber until I've had an opportunity to reflect?"
"Fool!" cries out the genie, "You dare disparage me!?!" The earth again quakes as redness swells in the genie's eyes. "A thousand years before you I walked the earth, and thousands more shall I live on once your fragile body returns to the sand from whence it came. I shall wait for NO mortal being. ANSWER ME!"
"Oh, Genie, I'm so sorry. I mean no disrespect. I WISH only for a few hours to think before giving you an answer. I promise to make quick work of it so that you may rest again."
Your words have a calming effect on the genie. Pacified, he softly touches his palms together and bows his head, "Your wish is my command," says he.
"You have only this very night to return to me. When the setting sun rises in the morning I shall consider my covenant fulfilled, never to appear before you again. You have TWO wishes left."
And with that, a wind picks up throughout the room when the lamp, as a vacuum, collects every last puff of smoke and mist in the air, and the genie disappears to within the urn.
At first, you're puzzled at the sullenness of your empty basement. It's dark, quiet, and you find yourself kneeling on the floor, mysteriously alone. Once you collect your thoughts, you realize you need a plan. You run upstairs and look outside. It's getting dark.
The first thing you do is grab a piece of paper and a pen. You go to your favorite chair, shut the door, tell everyone who might come looking that you're not feeling well and won't be available the rest of the evening. You turn off all of your electronics and begin probing the cavern of your mind.
"What do I want?" you ask yourself.
At first, so many things pop into your head that you just write down everything. You'll sort later. New shoes, an electric guitar, a deck, etc. You're surprised at how quickly things stop coming to mind, and you don't even have standards yet.
"I can't wish for any of those things. That's a waste," you surmise. So, you keep going.
"What do I REALLY want?" You start reframing the question. "What do I NOT have, that I wish I DID have?" You're tickled as you realize that simply reframing the question brings different thoughts to the forefront. The ideas come more slowly now, maybe one every five or so minutes, but they're also more meaningful.
"What do I want for my family? For my career? For the people around me? For my community?" You might as well jot down everything and worry about sifting through it later. "Where do I want to go?" you continue, "What do I want to learn?"
Two hours go by and just when it seems as though nothing is left to consider, you remember something you used to want as a child but outgrew. This opens up a whole new category for you– dreams you gave up on.
Every time you think you're done and you've experienced silence for 10 minutes, like popcorn cooking in the microwave, something random pops into your brain.
Eventually, you write down things like, "happiness for my children" and "passion in my relationships.” Maybe you want to travel the world.
The hour is growing late and you yawn as you become aware that you're exhausting your faculties. You're almost done, though, so you push onward.
There are so many things that you want, how can you narrow your desires down to just two? You start to label everything you've written down. "One" is something you absolutely must have, while the hot tub gets a "five" for less impactful. I mean, some of these things you can get for yourself.
You label them “short-term”, “intermediate-term”, and “long-term”, but your eyelids are getting heavy. Some of them you cross off because they just sound silly now.
You drift off to sleep.
At dawn, the first instances of daylight sneak through the window and warm your brow. You stir gently at first, but then your eyes pop wide open.
"Oh no!" you shriek.
You hop to your feet, and start running down the stairs, then back up again as you forgot your list. With prioritized, time-sorted, and labeled list in hand you're back down the stairs at once.
You scoop up the lamp and begin rubbing it with your sleeve, as you'd done hours before.
So you try your hand, rubbing frenetically, then giving it a little shake.
"Come on!" you implore. You open the lamp, tip it over, shaking furiously now.
And still, nothing but emptiness.
Dejected. You sit against the wall and put down your empty lamp. You let out a deep breath and wonder if anything last night was ever real. ("Or did I just dream it all up after reading that silly blog?")
Well, at least something was real. You look down and see your list of all the things you want in life, or ever wanted. Some of them are ridiculous and make you laugh. (You're no Ariana Grande.) But some of them don't seem so out of reach, and you find that these are the most meaningful endeavors. Just the mere pursuit of them would bring more fulfillment to your life.
You do something unexpected. You start making a plan again. You start breaking up your most meaningful desires into strategies. You wanted to have more friends so you come up with a few strategies–things like networking, reconnecting with old friends, etc. You wanted to learn a new instrument, so you go to the music store and buy a violin to re-learn the instrument you missed from middle school.
Then you break those strategies up into tactics. For networking you decide to join a group of people with a similar interest. For reconnecting with old friends, you decide to visit them, or at least call them each on their birthday. For playing a new instrument, you decide to subscribe to YouTube channels about violins, practice 15 minutes each day on a new song… Of course, this is your story, not mine, so I won't give away everything.
After making a few friends at the music store you 'kill two birds with one stone'!
You commit to doing three to five things every quarter whose completion would help you lead a richer, more meaningful life, and you put those commitments in a place where you will see them every day. Even though it's a bit of a bother, or rather because it is, you decide to put post-it notes on your bathroom mirror and only take them down once they're completed.
One day, a few years from now, you put on a pair of pants you haven't been able to wear in a while but they look fantastic on you. Filled with an unusual amount of confidence you beam and think, "I'm going to look terrific at the party tonight." You pull the post-it note off of the bathroom mirror which reads, "Wear Fav Pants".
You walk down to the basement with your note and dust off the old lamp. You crinkle up your paper trophy and stuff it with the others inside the jar.
"I still have two wishes left," you say out loud, "and I'm ready when you are."
This was a story I wrote about you. Or rather, it could be a story about the future you.
Contrary to perception, the central characters are not mythical wishmasters and ancient artifacts, but rather VISION and TRANSFORMATION.
My company focuses on planning, portfolio management, etc. Those are tactics.
But if you boil all of that away, our raison d'etre is helping our clients live their lives to their highest and fullest potential, if that's something they wish for themselves.
We have a few tricks up our sleeves. One of which is a worksheet we authored called “Drive” designed to help you gain clarity around what you're trying to accomplish in life, in the world, and more presently, in the next few months.
If you find yourself woefully unprepared should a magic genie appear before you tonight, please consider downloading our “Drive” worksheet and taking it to a quiet place for a few hours.
"The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper." - W.B. Yeats