Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Do What I Want

So I tell people a lot that "I do what I want." This is often a knee-jerk reaction that I don't really think through; it just kind of comes out when someone tells me what to do. I can usually keep it in check in more serious settings, but not always. There was that one time I was teaching and one of my students was telling me what to do so that I could make the projector would work and without thinking I just said to the student, "I do what I want." He just looked at me, confused, and didn't say anything. And then I did what he said and the projector worked. Yes, I know, very professional.

While we're on the topic of "professionality" here's a good point of reference showing a younger, more innocent Sam doing what he wants. In this case what he wanted was to try to fit a light globe up his nose. Perfectly reasonable. And yeah, I'm not sure what Chad was doing.

Photo by Whitney Call
Anyway, a couple weeks ago one of my former roommates called me out via social media for not actually "doing what I want" when I complained that I couldn't go to the BYU vs Notre Dame football game because of various other things that needed to get done. His exact words were, "how many times did i hear you say the words "I DO WHAT I WANT!" that's right zero because you always screamed it at me, you better go to that game or else." While I take exception to his assertion that I "always screamed it at [him]" (I swear I'm really not much the screaming type), his quibble with my self-proclaimed mantra illuminated a common misunderstanding with the I do what I want lifestyle. I took that moment to correct his ignorance, but since my clarification of what it means for someone to "do what they want" was buried in a fairly out-of-the-way facebook comment thread, I've decided that it needs to be resurrected and posted here in the fresh air of yo mama llama. 


The saying "I do what I want," is a much more complicated endeavor than it is often given credit for. Just because I "want" to do something, it doesn't mean that I don't also want another something that stands in direct opposition to the first something. 

Let me explain. In the case of the football game this weekend, I want to go to game. But I also want to work on various endeavors mostly relating to school work this weekend, which endeavors would prevent me from attending the game. Either way I choose, I'll be doing what I want, but I'll be simultaneously neglecting to do what I want. Not because I don't want that which is neglected, but because I want the other more. 

In that sense, isn't every choice we make an expression of us all always doing what we want? The truth is, we've just set up a hierarchy of wants (perhaps unconsciously) and chosen that which is highest on the list. Sometimes we look back and in retrospect realize that something else ought to have been higher on our hierarchy because it would have been a more worthwhile and fulfilling prospect. 

That's what we call regret. 

The goal of a happy and fulfilling life, then, is to make conscious our unconscious hierarchies of want. That way any choice we make is a true and deliberate reflection of what we want. 

Saying that "I do what I want" is not belligerence (though, I'll admit, in many cases it's also not not belligerence). In its truest sense the I do what I want way of life is knowing myself and behaving accordingly. It's acting and not being acted upon. It's saying, "I have surveyed the field of possible choices and I have decided that here is where my true values lie; this is that to which I give supreme importance and that which I have deemed worthy of my precious few moments here upon God's green Earth." 

That is what it means to "do what I want." The trick is actually doing it. And that is a lifelong endeavor.

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