You Won’t Always Get What You Want

Gareth I. Jones
6 min readApr 30, 2023

What are the three things stopping you from getting what you really want?

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Getting what we want isn’t an easy achievement.

It’s often painted as decisiveness or having a strong character, but the complexity is way deeper than that.

If you want to get what you want, you need to know what you want, say what you want, and know why you really want it.

Knowing What We Want

There are many complexities to knowing what we want. Often it’s just not asking ourselves the question deeply enough.

When was the last time you had a strong and deep desire that you recognised? Whether it was something you wanted for dinner or a career step that pulled you towards it.

We usually need to be in that situation or moment and pressed to realise what we want, and that knee-jerk reaction might tell us everything we need to know.

There’s a bit of Thinking Fast and Slow in this. Sometimes, maybe most times, we don’t need to overthink it. Whether you want a cheese sandwich or a falafel wrap for lunch isn’t going to change your life too much, we can just make a rapid decision.

But how often do you question these desires? When did you last ask yourself what you want the next decade of your life to look like?

We might have an abstract idea of what we want: big house, big cars, big holidays, but one thing I’ve learned from successful entrepreneurs is that once they’ve achieved these things there’s the realisation that they’re not the end goal.

Without knowing what we want, we can’t put the steps in place to get what we really want, or ask for what we want.

More often than not it is a sense of freedom and autonomy that gives satisfaction, but we don’t ask ourselves for this.

People can’t read our minds, so if we know what we want then we need to learn to articulate it.

Saying What We Want

Many of us, once we’ve actually worked out what we want, we just ask for it or go get it — right?

Not so much.

We stop asking for what we want — and in turn getting it — due to many internal and external factors.

If we let these rules dictate our behaviour then we are opting out of endless potential future paths.

I’ll write more about this idea of pushing our luck in the next few weeks, but we are all very aware of those invisible barriers around us in everyday life.

It could be something as simple as not just walking straight into a friend’s house without knocking, or going into a host’s kitchen and helping yourself to whatever is in their fridge.

These things aren’t illegal, they’re not even that upsetting if someone did them, but we still don’t dare do it.

(Some people do just go straight to the fridge, they’re the ones I’ll write about in a future post.)

We often don’t attempt to overstep the invisible line, even though none of us have ever really established what it is.

If you ever bite your tongue and hold back when you’re in a meeting, then you’re depriving yourself of the powers that you truly have.

There’s a difference here between honesty and candour, but also feeling like getting what we want is a battle for us to win.

You can get what you want without getting one over on someone else, if you expect resistance you will get resistance. More often than not, people want to work together to achieve shared wants.

There are a lot of mental models at play here too, but one of them is our reciprocation tendency. If someone bought you a coffee then you’re more likely to offer to do them a favour or repay that initial gesture.

The consequence of this is that we are also less likely to ask for more if they’ve already shown us generosity.

It’s something to be savvy about if you’re in a situation where you’re being sold to — if you get a sense that you’re helping someone out by paying them back then you might be falling prey to this bias.

Similarly we respond to mirroring. We all want to feel heard and understood, and when someone is repeating back what we have said then we feel better heard. This doesn’t mean that we’ve really been able to fully get across what we want or need.

Do you feel comfortable or awkward when it comes to closing a sale? Knowing what you both want to get from a transaction and saying it out loud makes it far more likely that you’ll both get what you want.

Knowing Why We Want What We Want

Before you go ahead and ask for that thing though, just take a step back and ask yourself — why exactly do I want that?

When you think back to the last time you bought a car, what were the factors?

Did you buy the car that was the most cost effective way of getting from A to B? The cheapest or best features for your budget?

If this was true, we’d all be driving around in smaller, budget brand, fuel efficient runners.

The car that you buy, the trainers you wear, the watch you choose — all of these things are often not so much about what we really want but what we’re influenced to believe we want.

This can link to the businesses we choose to lead. You can end up running a business that is not fulfilling our satisfying because you’re living someone else’s dream that you just assumed was your own.

Do you really want your business to be a juggernaut or does that only come to mind because that’s what it feels like you ought to want?

Is growth at all costs your real dream?

We’re so easily influenced by the stories, beliefs, and values of others around us, but we don’t want to recognise that.

If someone tells you something which becomes a factual belief then you might take it as a given, depending on who tells you and why they’re telling you. If an old friend tells you to meet them for dinner at 7pm then you will probably be there on time, but if you trust their judgement a little less you don’t rush to get there.

Equally if a stranger tells you that a shop is open until 7:15pm you might not trust it as much because of the red flags.

The other side of this coin is how easily we’re influenced by the leadership of others. If you’re having a meal with friends and one person has an alcoholic drink then all of the others are more likely to. The same with desserts, if you’re on a health kick then don’t get tempted when your companions ask to see the pudding options.

But it isn’t just one-to-one advice and direct social influence that gets to us.

We follow the common beliefs and customs of our group. This makes sense, but can be our undoing.

Common sense is the thing that saves us from walking in front of traffic or buying an unreliable brand of TV. We learn from the behaviours of others around us and that gives us permission and justification to follow them.

Some people in our circle might influence us more than others, but others may influence us passively.

We probably don’t even recognise we’re mimicking people in this way.

There’s research that has shown that this habit can lead to weight gain, political opinion shifts, and overspending.

As an entrepreneur or leader you need to know when to take off those shackles, and go in a different direction to the pack.

Your ability to stick to your personal preferences and share what you really want is a discipline that requires a lot of practice.

Do you need to have a business with 10,000 workers or is that someone else’s dream? Do you need to work 60 hours a week to be a success or is that a myth you’ve subscribed to?

Knowing what you want and doing what it takes to get it is your responsibility as a founder.

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Gareth I. Jones

Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.