You can’t always get what you want…

but if you try sometimes… you might find… you get what you need.

Never would have thought I’d use Rolling Stones lyrics in a post about business, but there’s wisdom behind the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that applies to life — both personally & professionally — especially these days when instant gratification is so readily available. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy for us to lose sight of the fact that we can’t always get what we want. But that’s okay.

Personally, I’ve spent the better part of the last year trying to figure out both “what I want” and “what I need.” Up until now, I always thought they were one in the same, but I’ve come to realize that, in reality, they seem somewhat diametrically opposed. And while that’s sort of unsettling, there’s also a feeling of comfort associated with understanding the difference between what you think you want, and what you know you need. A certain satisfaction with accepting the present moment for what you stand to learn from it, vs. where it’s getting you next. 

For the last decade, I’ve focused on “how what I’m doing now gets me to what’s next.” I managed to secure several roles within exciting start-up companies that enabled me to be the Swiss Army Knife, capable of tackling many problems. I drank a lot of Kool-Aid and rode some amazingly fun roller coasters, which I don’t regret at all, however, over time, I realized that I started to define myself by the company for which I worked. I proudly talked about “hustle” and “grind.” I proclaimed myself a “start-up guy” that didn’t balk at long hours and hard work. What I didn’t do, however, was ask myself how all of that was affecting my life outside of work.

When you’re young, hungry, and ready to conquer the world, all you care about is work. It’s what you spend most of your time doing, where you meet your friends, and what you’re most passionate about. As you get a little older, a little more weathered, you don’t lose your love of the start-up space or the excitement of a fast-paced, growing company, but you realize that it isn’t the be-all-end-all you once thought it was. At the risk of ruining my start-up street cred, I dare say that I enjoy being able to go to the gym at a reasonable hour for the first time in 10 years and coming home to enjoy dinner with my wife. Imagine that! 

More importantly, the last year I’ve learned some very valuable lessons about accepting the present moment for exactly that. One cannot control what happens tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. And there’s something to be said about accepting the present moment for what it is: life’s way of teaching you what you need to learn at that moment.

For me, that means learning new things every day. Learning to have self-confidence in who I am, not just which company I work for; learning about a new industry; learning about what it’s like to be a 115 person company acquired by a 150,000 person company;  learning about how to take better physical care of myself; learning about how to be a better husband to my wife and better friend to my friends; learning that it’s okay to make mistakes; learning that it’s okay to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out;” learning how to fit in to a pre-established culture and be vulnerable. 

Think about that last paragraph. Can you relate to it at all? Does your obsession with what you do overpower who you are? Do you realize there’s a difference? These days, those lines are easily blurred, but they don’t have to be. Every time I get anxious about my professional life, I try to take a step back and tell myself: “you are where you are because it’s where you’re meant to be right now.” Sounds cheesy, but it’s a great way to add some perspective to your day-to-day. 

The bottom line is, you’ve got to try to find a silver lining in everything. Anytime you find yourself thinking/talking negatively about your professional situation, try to flip your argument/attitude on its head and reframe it from a positive lens. Instead of, “man, this really sucks,” ask “what can I learn from this experience? How can I grow stronger and develop?” No one knows everything. No one has learned everything. Your life is a journey, and every step along the path offers some insight into personal growth, whether your initial perspective was positive or negative. Point is: try to figure out what it is you NEED in life at this moment, and milk the hell out of it because the more we cultivate what we need, the faster we get to what we want.

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