Wanting and oughting

It can be really tricky to tell the difference between “I want to do a thing” and “I ought to do a thing”. For example: I want to learn a second language. Is this something I really want? Or is it just something that seems like a right and proper thing to do? That smart, worldly, renaissance people know more than one language, and I want to be smart and worldly (or at least to be seen as smart and worldly), so I ought to learn Mandarin?

I really don’t know which it is. I’ve spent time learning languages before (none to anywhere near fluency), and I enjoyed the process. I’ve worked my way about halfway through Remembering the Kanji, made flashcards in Anki, and then abandoned the endeavour somewhere around the three month mark after I didn’t review my Anki deck for a few days, and then I felt guilty about it so avoided thinking about it, which compounded the longer I didn’t review my deck, and why hello there what-the-hell effect. But before that, it was a satisfying, enjoyable experience.

It’s not just languages: I feel the same way about learning to draw, learning to make music, and writing consistently. On and off I feel that way about making games. It’s like, unless I do all of these things (and do them at least moderately well), I feel unfulfilled or not living up to my potential or uncreative. Unless I can paint a beautiful picture, compose a song in Mandarin, put them both in a video game and then write a blog post about it in a day, I’m not good enough.

So I think it’s important to separate that kind of guilt-driven thinking from actual wants and needs. Even if I do truly want all those things for myself, thinking about them from a place of guilt and fear of failure will only bring anguish and frustration.

Instead, I should factor these goals, figure out why I want them, and then either enjoy the learning process or know that I can put them away for good.

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