What you really, really want might not spice up your life

One way to make career decisions is to consider what you want. Or to add a little spice: whatever you really really want. This way, you can direct your efforts towards finding roles that will satisfy your desires.

The more cautious among us can even take steps to verify the reality of our desires to ensure that they are reasonably realistic and achievable. In general, this means determining whether you have the right skills and whether the roles you are looking for are reasonably available.

Illustration: Dionne GainCredit:

It all makes perfect sense. But it’s not. It could possibly lead to the worst career decision since Edward Smith decided to leave the helm of RMS Olympic to take charge of HMS Titanic.

To understand why this is so, let me take you to Toytown in Leamington Spa in December 1975. For it was then that an eight year old child harangued his grandmother as Christmas approached to buy her a board game called Ghost. Form. There were rotating parts with carts full of ghouls as we walked around the set.

What more could an eight-year-old wish for? I wanted this game so badly. I called my grandmother several times on a phone plugged into the wall (Google it) to beg her. I even helpfully gave him instructions on exactly where the game could be found in the store. I can still see it now: it was at the top of the small staircase, then the second aisle on the right, not too low. I didn’t just want this game, I needed it. It would complement me.

Being a sweet and adorable granny, I duly received Ghost Train for Christmas and learned the power of harassment on top of that. And like all kids’ board games, it’s been played probably twice, maybe three times, and then relegated to the top of the wardrobe forever.

What this eight-year-old hadn’t understood was the crucial difference between wanting and loving. I wanted the game, sure, but I hadn’t thought about whether I would like to play the game and whether it would give me longer term satisfaction.


Wanting a particular career turns out to be very different from loving that career. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I am led to believe that wanting and loving have different, but related, brain systems.

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