What Do You Want?

“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.” —Mark Twain

I’m embarrassed by the number of books on my shelf that share the basic theme of “getting what you want out of life.” You know that ones that start: 5 Easy Steps to This, or 7 Keys to That. And you know what’s even more embarrassing? I’ve read every one of these Be Successful, Be Happy, Be Pretty, Be Blessed, etc. books on that shelf.

I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl”; yet. I read the book, and upon completing it, threw it across the room. But I will see the movie. I want to see what director David Fincher does with Gillian Flynn’s screenplay. I’m thinking that the most terrifying thing about this story is there doesn’t seem to be a character in it who has a single worthy aspiration.

Death of a Salesman” is story sort of like that. Poor Willy Loman. I can’t think of a fate worse than having your own son stand over your grave and proclaim of you, “He had all the wrong dreams!”

So, if Mr. Twain could make good on his bold promise,
what would you tell him you want?

I think it is a “big picture” question—you know; not a question like: what do you want to do this weekend, but rather, what do you want them to say about you at your funeral.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been involved in a project called “Storyline”. One of the things I’m learning is that stories (and each of our lives is a story) are either comedies or tragedies. That sounds so reductionist;at first, I refused to accept it. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, even though it’s basically about happy endings and sad endings.

Why would anyone choose a tragic story for their own life? An example: in 30+ years of working with teenagers, many times I saw kids choose a destructive path, sometimes, at least partly, to spite their parents for divorcing and fracturing their family. Not to say that happens every time—it’s just an example.

Many times tragic stories seem to be the only option someone has. Gilda Radner of the original cast of “Saturday Night Live” wrote upon learning of her terminal cancer: “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.”

Back to the abiding words of Mr. Twain, and his scenario of having a mentor or guide who can, not only tell someone how to get what they want out of life, but help them discover what they REALLY want; consider this advice:

Walk right side: safe,
Walk left side: safe,
Walk middle: SQUISH!
—Mr. Miyagi

Not only did Mr. Miyagi show Daniel-san how to win tournament, and get girl; he taught him to aspire to a balanced life. (And to economize speech by eliminating parts of speech like prepositions and articles.)

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. —Goeth

Maybe that’s what I would tell Mark Twain: I want roots and wings. And I want to be known as someone who helped others find their roots and wings. If that’s not too much to ask. Oh, and it would be really useful to learn that rapid hand-rubbing thing Mr. Miyagi does to help aching joints and muscles.