What do you want?
I’m finding this to be a powerful question. For me, it is powerful because I easily get caught up in what is immediate (like my to-do list) rather than figuring out what is really important to me. For some, it is powerful because they’ve never really thought about it. For others, it is powerful because they don’t believe they deserve to even want in the first place, let alone get what they want. For others, it is powerful because they are so afraid that they might not get what they want, so the best way to avoid that sense of failure is not to want in the first place. Still others don’t even want to want because they are afraid they might have to be responsible for trying.
Thinking about what we really want, rather than what others expect of us, is the ultimate values clarification exercise. Do you want to make six figures or do you want to have more time with your family? Do you want to get up early each day to exercise or do you want to get up early each day to write?
I assume that none of us will get everything we want. We have limited control, different access to resources and support, and experience different systemic privilege and oppression. Accepting that we won’t get everything we want can be key to not letting us limit ourselves before others have the chance to. In fact, I assume we won’t even get most of what we want. But let’s not let understanding that we have limited control allow us to justify giving up our agency. Let’s not let understanding that there are many obstacles in our path to happiness and success, with justifying our being one of those obstacles ourselves. As my good friend Grant Anderson has said, “You’ll face many obstacles in your life, you shouldn’t be one of them.”
So, as has become trendy this election season, let’s do the arithmetic. If we assume that we might only get 25% of what we want, many of us lower our expectations and only want 25% so that we aren’t disappointed or don’t feel like a failure. But then we only get 25% of that 25%. This not only reduces what we want, it also reduces what we get. I’d suggest we go the other way. If you are only going to get 25% of what you want, you should want a lot more so that the 25% is pretty great. How can you want more?
If you want to run a marathon, could you want to compete in an Ironman triathlon? If you want to save $400 a month, could you save $600? If you want to retire at 60, could you want to retire at 55? Now the risk in wanting these things is that you might not make it. But if you only want to retire at 60, retiring earlier isn’t really something you’ll work toward. But if you want to retire at 55 and you fail and don’t make it and can’t retire until you are 58, you still win. If you can’t find a way to save $600 and you fail and only save $500, you still win.
What do you want? Could you want more? What if you got all that, then what would you want?