Financial TimesFinancial Times

Knowing what you want is the ultimate life skill

By Janan Ganesh

21 Oct 2022 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

This article distances itself from the self-help literature that focuses on the "how" of achieving a goal. The bigger struggle is knowing what your goal is.

You aren’t sure that a career in shipping law is for you. You begin a career in shipping law. An inner voice says you won’t enjoy marriage. Another says you’ll grow into it. You marry. Parenthood? It is freedom-killing, but it does enrich one’s time on Earth. You become a parent, on the understanding that a second child would be too much, probably. A second child arrives. (And look, twins!) That private school across town is extortionate, but the pastoral care is first-class, though it is extortionate. You put the eldest’s name down. None of these decisions really feel like yours. Perhaps the consequences won’t be yours either. 

No such luck. At that age now where the life choices of some peers are souring, I search for a theme, perhaps even a lesson, in the sadness. And increasingly find one: knowing what you want is the most important life skill. It is worth more than either talent or hard work. It is almost worth as much as luck. Have it, and disappointment is still probable, but on your own terms. Lack it, and you will be done to and acted upon. You will be the creature of events.

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