Desire and Rejection

One of the primary ways I predict whether I'll get along with someone is how they react when they are rejected. That is, what happens when their attempt to fulfill a desire is stopped?

When nobody says no to you getting what you want, we call them spoiled. On the other end of the pendulum swing, what are people like when they're always stopped from fulfilling their desires? In between, there's a lot of resistance, insistence, and negotiation. We like to observe or participate in the way innovators and visionaries refuse to take "no" for an answer. We write books and movies about these people, eg. Shawshank Redemption, Mighty Ducks. Tilting our head just a bit, we also imprison people who don't take no for an answer, eg. Sexual predators, big bankers who prioritized their greed over the stability of the world. It's a curious activity to observe the way people handle resistance.

We don't like when people stop us fully, but what happens when it's what we need to hear and do?

"You shouldn't marry her."
"Don't quit your day job."
"It's a red light."

Light Touch

Life is a multi-dimensional optimization problem. There is an infinite number of sliders that we tune to our liking, and that's why I think happiness in life requires a light touch. Let's look at a couple areas in our daily lives to see how balancing desire and rejection plays out.

When meeting new people, you want to be forward and assertive, but you don't want to come off as aggressive. You want to be open and conversational, but you don't want to give them your life story right away. You want to mirror the other person's behaviour. Cultural differences create for humourous situations as I jump up on tables at the bar and make new friends.

When learning new material, you want to set a good foundation by taking things slow, but you don't want to take it so slow that you never leave Chapter One. You want to advance through the complexities of the material, but you also know that true mastery is having a rigid grasp on the basics. You want to stay high level, but you also want to display a depth of understanding, so you bounce between the two extremes.

When making a major transition in life, you want to stay grounded and take reminders of the past, but you want to let go of your old life so you can move on to bigger and better things. You say goodbye to old and significant relationships, but you open yourself to making new friends and new families. You don't want to change and "go Hollywood," but you want to grow and become a different person.

Never Stopped

In adulthood, spoiled kids are called privileged. If you have to deal with someone like this, try to get away from them. Beware being the first person to try to stop them. That's a lot of momentum to try to curb. You may have read my adventures in cutting out my family who always got their way with me. Family partly means obligation in a legal and cultural manner, and family duty can feed some appetites endlessly because certain people have to get their way. Shirking those responsibilities is also atrocious, but it depends on which family and the specific context.

Always Stopped

If your desires are constantly being blocked, what happens to you as a person? In an abusive relationship, one side is fulfilling their desires disproportionately over the other. Thinking back about my decisions when I was younger, I was confused as to why I made certain choices or acted so weird. It occurred to me recently that, when I was younger, I wasn't having regular sex. That tends to confuse the mind quite a bit when your urges are screaming for satisfaction. Flight of the Conchords believes this is the root of the problem behind war.

What about our desires to be loved, to take on significant risk and responsibility, to play Wii U with our friend on Friday morning? If we're caught in a loop where we can't get what we want, we must ask ourselves why. The key principle behind Toyota's Lean Manufacturing system and subsequently, the Lean Startup, is asking yourself "Why?" five times in a row in order to dig deep enough to find the root of the problem. I'll do one live, right here, right now. Let's all see where it goes.

  1. Why am I so unhappy? Because I suppressed my feelings a lot over the years.
  2. Why did I suppress my feelings over the years? Because I'm sensitive and it was the only way I knew how to handle the flood of emotions.
  3. Why was I experiencing a flood of emotions? Because the interaction with my family was far too complicated and demanding for me to cope over 20 years.
  4. Why was I unable to cope? Because they were abusive to me and I hadn't developed the skills to handle that abuse as a child.
  5. Why were they abusive to me? Because they are narcissists and I didn't want to feed their egos.

When we're rejected from fulfilling our desires, we must ask why and respond accordingly. This is simply another slider in life where we need to observe both extremes, then use a light touch to decide where we want to be right now. Anyone catch a whiff of vicious and virtuous cycles?

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le