Want what you want

For my freshman year at college, CMU‘s dorm-room allocation policy paired me with a music major named Joe.

We were not well-matched — or we were, depending on whether you thought Felix and Oscar were made for each other. I was a math/science/computer nerd who didn’t know a soul in Pittsburgh. He was a Pittsburgh native with movie-star looks, an athletic inclination, and several high-school buddies around. About the only thing we had in common other than our dorm room was that I wanted sex with lots of college girls and he had sex with lots of college girls.

We traveled in different circles and on different schedules. We saw each other only seldom, even in our room.

One day I ran into him in a student lounge on campus, playing the piano — beautifully, of course. Later, back in the dorm, I told him (not for the first time) about how envious I was of his ability, and about how long and desperately I’d been wanting to learn the piano myself.

Joe asked me whether I’d ever taken lessons. I told him I had, briefly, for just a few weeks once, and that occasionally since then I’d sit down at the keyboard and try to produce some nice sounds, but that I never seemed to get anywhere. Was there anything specifically stopping me from learning the piano? he wanted to know. Only having enough time, I answered.

Joe and I got along well. He was pleasant and easygoing. But on this occasion he uncharacteristically lost his patience with me. “You obviously didn’t want to learn piano enough,” he told me, “or you would have done more about it long before now. So either do something or admit you don’t want to learn piano as much as you say you do. Either way, stop complaining!”

I was stunned, but I grasped the rightness of his words at once.

Obviously, while I’d been busy with launching a computer dating service, having subway adventures, memorizing movie dialogue, staging a fantasy photo shoot, and generally trying in a hundred ways to have a very cosmopolitan high-school life, Joe had been somewhat more single-mindedly practicing and developing his talent. I’d made my choices and he’d made his. I’d prioritized my other activites above piano-learning; or, put another way that should have been obvious but wasn’t, I’d prioritized piano-learning below almost everything else.

I doubt Joe could have known the effect his righteous outburst would have on me. If he hadn’t spoken harshly to me — if he’d said in his laid-back way, “You really ought to do something about learning the piano” — it wouldn’t have registered at all. It took a verbal slap in the face to teach me the life-changing lesson that wanting something only enough to complain about it — and not enough to actually do anything — is the same as not wanting it.

Don’t waste time on the stuff you think you want but really don’t, and get crackin’ on the stuff you do.

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