I am used to hearing people use phrases like “I want to be able to do X thing” or “I want to have X position at my company” when people are talking in generalities about their goals. I tend to do it often as well, especially when using “self-talk” to attempt to work on internal goals and desires. However, when reading a book from Paul Tough, How Children Succeed, one of the quotes that he references from Jonathan Rowson, a Scottish chess grand master who had written about the importance of emotion and psychology in chess success.

When it comes to ambition, it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it…[choosing will] reveal your choice through your behavior and your determination. Every action says, ‘This is who I am.’ – Jonathan Rowson

While this may seem like a simple matter of semantics, it is not that simple. “Wanting” something for yourself is a much weaker explaination of your desire than if you had “chosen” it. Many people “want” to be incredibly famous and rich, however, when you start looking at the lives of those that have accomplished this, forget the Kardashians, you will quickly find that they did not “choose” to be famous, they “chose” to achieve greatness in their fields, and the rich and famous part was more of a side-effect.

In a professional realm, I have long “wanted” to be like the Scott Hanselmans, the John Resigs, the Scott Jehls of the software development world, well-known and respected, and on the leading edge of the software development community. However, attaining this level of public prestige is not something I have “chosen” for myself, like it was not something that these developers “chose” for themselves. In all actuality, I have “chosen” to work hard at my craft, and yes, software development is a craft, just like woodworking is a craft. I have also “chosen” to make an impact in the people around me, hopefully making my colleagues better developers in the process.

Yes, there will be setbacks along the way, and things may look bleak at times, but when you “choose” something as your goal, you will make the necessary sacrifices to be the person you need to be to achieve your ambitions. When you simply “want” something, you may make an effort to achieve your ambition, but more likely than not, you have not internalized your goal enough to have the intestinal fortitude to push through any hardships that will arise.

Don’t just “want” something great for yourself, “choose” greatness.