What Wouldn’t You Do?

I’ve been known to monologue endlessly about the importance of knowing oneself. It’s a topic that — if included on a Venn Diagram — would be a massive circle overlapping all others. If you don’t know yourself, how can you know what goals to work toward, or what you’re willing to do to reach those goals?

The oft-unasked inverse of that question is “What wouldn’t you do to reach your goals?” What lines are you unwilling to cross? What personal changes are you unwilling to make in order to fulfill your hopes and dreams?

This is an important question to ask yourself, because knowing what you will do is only half the picture. It defines the ground floor, but you don’t know where the ceiling is. You can’t have a complete, stable structure without a surface on which to hang the chandelier.

Put a different way, what aspects of your morality are more important to you than the goals you’ve set for yourself? Which would you trade for the other? If you’re dying to be the top dog in your field, would you kill a stranger to make it happen? How about a friend? Family member? Or taking it in another direction, would you commit corporate espionage if no one you know is directly impacted by the fallout and you’re unlikely to be caught? Certain to never be caught?

I wrestle with these kinds of questions, not because they’re likely to be situations I’ll face (I doubt I’ll ever have to choose between killing a guy or not, with my entrepreneurial ambitions hanging in the balance), but because the answers tell me something about myself, and help me make decisions in the real world that would otherwise seem quite murky and difficult.

Knowing that I would much rather succeed moderately and adhere to my standards than succeed wildly, knowing that I had broken my ethical code (something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life) allows me to make better decisions when, say, I’m trying to decide between business models or expansion opportunities. Which one better aligns with my sense of morality? ‘Difficult questions’ become far simpler when you’re able to eliminate options based on what you know will make you happy and what will lower your quality of life.

Of course, everyone has different moral standards and priorities, so this isn’t something that can be taught; not as a statement, anyway. The only way to know which paths are ideal for you to take is to better know yourself, and to do that, you have to ask yourself questions. A great many of them, if you want to know yourself intimately.

I like to ask myself one tough question per day, and really ponder over it until I come up with a confident, comfortable answer. They don’t have to be complex questions; even something as simple as “Your house is on fire, and you can only grab two things (pets and people don’t count) as you run out the door; what do you take with you?” works well, and the true answers (not the ones you feel you’re expected to give) might surprise you.

The more you know yourself, the better your decisions and lifestyle will be. Take the time to ask yourself questions and answer them honestly. Otherwise you’ll never hang that chandelier.


  1. It’s scary how easy it can be to go through life WITHOUT taking time to get to know yourself. Since I’ve gotten to know myself, my life path is a lot clearer & easier to navigate. Great article, thanks for writing it!

  2. This is a lucid, clear-cut post.  Thank you for writing it as it will provide light to many concerned.
    I wish you luck in getting this out to many, many people. It deserves it.
    thanks again.

  3. it was this exact question you posed to me when i was facing possible “fame” in the face of brand control that really helped me make a choice to say FU to the tv producers. it’s important to look at issues from all possible angles, then demand 40k just to see what they say :)
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  4. it was this exact question you posed to me when i was facing possible “fame” in the face of brand control that really helped me make a choice to say FU to the tv producers. it’s important to look at issues from all possible angles, then demand 40k just to see what they say :)

  5. I have a very good process to determine my situation at a given point in time and figure out where I should be heading.I ask myself one question “If I would die today what would I regret not having done?”.It is actually a very difficult question and it should not be taken lightly. But if you sit down and truly think about the question then you usually end up with one thing that is more important then anything else in your life. You should then continue to strive for that thing as long as it takes, days, weeks, months or years. When you have reached that goal ask yourself the same question. If your answer is “nothing” then your in a very good time period in your life and you should celebrate. Then a few weeks later ask yourself the same question to see if anything new has started to nag your mind.This is a continuos journey but as long as you are always focusing on the things that are most important to you, you should be able to life a very good life.  

  6. Insightful!, yes it is weird that it takes time, to know ourself and we have to be patient with ourselves, because usually we take ourselves granted and when we think of a tough question, the answer is surprising and so different from what we earlier thought. Every passing year when i answered my question of what is imp to me – apart from peopl, but material things-, they always changed and sometimes so dramatically. In order to keep up, knowing one self is very important and hence i keep on asking one or two questions. Currently I want to buy an expensive guitar…but i am giving me time till a month let me see if there is same passion with me after 30 days, I will buy it!
    PS: Still 20 days to go for the guitar, to see whether i should go ahead with the buy!
    Nice article and so true.

  7. For some reason this one made me think of the Saw movies. If those guys had asked themselves “What wouldn’t I do to stay alive?/save a stranger’s life?” Jigsaw would be pretty screwed xD.
    This seems like an awesome way to discover your morals. Another way to make sure you don’t break your ethical code on hard decisions is to simply ask yourself “One year from now, what would I wish I had done today?” (btw also a great question to ask when you’re planning your day).
    Cheers Colin, this is a sweet way of adding some useful spice to your day.

  8. Cool idea – asking what wouldn’t you do. Puts things is fresh perspective I think. I also love the idea of asking yourself one tough question each day. A great way to grow.

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