"I think," says the guy next to me with sincerity, "that what I really want, when I get back to New Zealand, is to do something meaningful. You know, something I enjoy, like how you seem to enjoy what you do."
We are seated side-by-side on a downed log, miles off the Caribbean coast of Panama...
... On a tiny deserted island consisting entirely of sand and sun-bleached conch shells and coconut palms.
We are here because of the infamous Darien gap -- that strip of swampy, narcotraficante-patrolled jungle that separates Panama from Colombia, and the only place where it is impossible (or at least highly inadvisable) to drive or cycle or hike overland.
Instead, we are being sailed around it -- a 5-day experience that includes hopping about the San Blas islands for 3 days before buckling down for a 2-day open-ocean crossing to Cartagena -- together with a group of fun-loving Aussies and Kiwis and one pair of impossibly good-looking ex-lovers from Norway.
This guy works for McKinsey New Zealand, and his cushy consulting job will be waiting for him when he is done cartwheeling around South America several months from now.
"Well, you know what they say," I offer, and drain my warm drink. "The hard part isn't GETTING what you want."
"No?" He turns and regards me with lifted eyebrow, the light from a roaring bonfire reflecting warmly off his face.
"Getting what you want is easy," I say, smiling. "It's KNOWING what you want that's hard."
He chuckles, asks me to elaborate.
"If you were to be really honest with yourself," I venture, "you might discover that for every thing you consciously believe that you want, there is some small subconscious part of you that actively does NOT want the thing you consciously claim to want."
He frowns and cocks his head.
"I'm not following."
"Think about it," I say. "Let's say you drum up the courage and do it. Imagine that you get back to New Zealand and you walk into your old office and you say thanks but no thanks! I'm going to pursue my passions now!"
"Let's say your passion is going out on your own, which you set out to do. You build a website and start networking and you even get a few prospects lined up!"
... "And then, the first few sales conversations you have are rejections. Over and over again, it seems, you hear the dreaded word NO."
"Fast forward 6 months, when the rent is due, and even though you've had a few successes, now you have to dip into your savings. How does that feel?"
Here, a creeping smile.
"Now," I press, "imagine going home for the holidays."
"Imagine having to tell your parents and your grandparents and your aunts and uncles WHY you decided to give up something secure, something lucrative and prestigious -- not to mention a story that everyone around you instantly recognizes as a wise and practical choice -- for something that is inherently insecure by comparison."
He laughs, gives a fake shudder.
"Or conversely, let's say you just want to make more money; a shit ton of it, ideally. And let's say you succeed in tripling your income, or perhaps you just win the lottery."
"Now, are there any people in your life who would start to look at you differently? Any relationships that would shift in what could possibly be an uncomfortable way?
"Any stories about who you are, or what you deserve, that might get challenged by this new development?"
"The reality," I conclude, "is that the parts of you that feel averse to these scenarios, are the same parts that actively DO NOT want any change to your status quo."
"And when those parts go unacknowledged, they become precisely the things that prevent or sabotage you from getting the thing you ostensibly want."
He nods, gazing at the fire, a slow smile spreading across his face.
"That's really valuable," he muses finally.
"I guess, when I think about it, there's a whole host of reasons why I may not want the things I say I want. And I can see how that keeps me where I am, doing what I've always done."
... And you, dear reader? What is it one thing you currently believe that YOU really "want"?
And what potentially unsavory repercussions would you have to confront and accept... for you to truly have it?