As I was coming down off the high from attending Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Book Tour in Birmingham, Alabama, I knew I needed something to keep me awake on the road.  So I turned to a local classic rock station and let my mind wander ahead of me.

Granted, it was still swimming with all the unconventional ideas Chris’ session had inspired.  But when The Rolling Stones came on, I couldn’t help but think, these guys are geniuses.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

This is such a double-edged sword.

One the one hand, this one little phrase can be such a dream killer.  It’s the way “practical” people end the conversation when you start imagining a different and better life for yourself.  This is a big part of Chris’ message.  You might say to a co-worker, “I just wish I could work from the beach instead of this rat hole,” and what do you think your co-worker is going to say?  You can’t always get what you want.  Seriously, you don’t have to listen to that.

On the other hand, we all occasionally need a dose of reality.  I like to use this line on my daughter when she cries for candy for breakfast.  Sometimes I have to use it on myself too.  Like when I realize that fertility isn’t a test you can study for and ace the following month.  I’m trying everything I can, but I’ve also made peace with the idea I may only ever have one kid I have to ply with strawberries in the morning.

The real challenge is to know when you’re copping out and when you’re being mature.

But If You Try Sometimes…

A friend of mine who’s having trouble in his job search recently asked me, “How do I get confidence like yours? Were you born with it or is it something one can develop?”

I really didn’t know the answer.  What usually sets me apart is my enthusiasm and optimism.  This really isn’t the same thing as confidence, though it may appear that way from the outside.  I’ve made sure the right people liked my work, and figured the rest would work itself out.

But what if your goal doesn’t “just work out”?  Do you hit the reset button or keep trying to win someone over on a goal you haven’t yet shared?

Lately I’ve been going for the bold and building confidence with small successes.  For example, when I learned Darren Rowse from Problogger was having a private party at BlogWorld I really wanted to attend, I just sent him an email asking if I could go.  Darren doesn’t really know me, so I actually expected him to ignore the email.  But he didn’t, and more importantly, he said yes (he’s also an incredibly nice guy, so it was an easy start).

Then I tried for more ambitious goals.  I asked for interviews with blogging “celebrities,” I pitched an idea for a guest post with someone who says no nearly 90% of the time (and happens to be one of my idols).  Even now, as I’m writing this, I think my fear sounds so silly.  I can just hear people saying, why in the world were you afraid to ask for those things?

Guess what.  We’d say the same thing about your fears.

You Get What You Need

I’m a poet, so I’m a real stickler for word choice.  Notice they didn’t say you’d get what you want, but what you need.

This is a really important point because most of us have no idea what we want, much less what we need to be happy.  Lottery winners are miserable, starlets who meet with success can’t stand the attention they once yearned for.

When I look at the goal lists that many people produce, they are full of ambitious and impressive feats.  Someone might want to run a 4 minute mile, others like Chris might want to visit every country in the world by a certain age.   Personally, I really want to be a guest on The Colbert Report.

Scott Young recently wrote a fabulous blog post about mentally separating our ambitions from our essential needs, which in most cases are pretty different.  As one reader summed it up in the comments:

Dreaming big isn’t the problem. It’s getting frustrated when your big dream isn’t fulfilled.

Working towards these kinds of goals is fun and challenging–absolutely part of a happy life.  Just don’t confuse them with what you need.  Luckily, that’s usually well within reach.