There is a big difference between what I think I want and what I actually want. Let me use the “house on the hill” as an example.

I love night driving. I go down to Lake Washington, near my home, sometimes at 1 or 2 in the morning. I play “Cistern”, a piece of classical music composed by my good friend Jherek Bischoff, and I soak in the atmosphere. It’s calming and beautiful, the soft street lights, the water, the distant moon.

There is an unforgettable house near Lake Washington, way up on the hill overlooking all this beauty. For a while I used to fantasize about owning that house, imagining it as a pinnacle of success.

Now here’s reality.

I bought the house I bought because it is perfect for me. It has almost no yard (which means almost no yard-work.) I can rent out parts of it to my friends, which matters because I am mentally ill and tried living alone once. I will never make that mistake again. (Not to mention, I spend a heck of a lot less on housing when I have renters paying my mortgage for me.)

My house is also right off the freeway, and commuting is easy. I work in two places, Seattle and Tacoma, and I can always go the opposite way of the traffic. (For anyone who lives in Seattle, you know how blessed I am.)

The house is the perfect size. It is cut off from my neighbors, so I can do whatever I want without worrying about the neighborhood.

And here’s the truth.

That house on the hill? It would double my commute. I’m not sure the neighbors would be thrilled with my renters or my activities. It would require far more work to maintain. It’s too big for me–I would feel lost and a little lonely in it. Actually, it’s worse than that. I would start to feel the house was haunted.

Even if by some magic I could trade homes with no expense, I would be worse off in that house on the hill.

I could wreck my life trying to save up enough to live in that beautiful structure, be surviving paycheck to paycheck once I owned it, and end up less happy with my actual place of residence. What do you call the opposite of a free lunch? Free poison? If I chase that fantasy of the house on the hill, I will be worse off in every way than I am now.

Let’s be clear. The house is gorgeous. In fact it is the perfect house–for someone else. It’s just not good for me.

Too many people put themselves through hell to live in the house on the hill, and it’s not even the house they really want to live in.

Just because someone else genuinely wants something, doesn’t mean you should want it.