What is it you truly want in your life?

A few days ago, I was minding my own beeswax at the gym when a man looked at me and after a few mild comments about stretching and flexibility asked, “What do you want?” It is probably one of the most extraordinary questions I’ve ever been asked by a stranger and launched a conversation that lasted nearly forty minutes. There we sat, side by side, exploring the conundrum of what it means to “want” something and how our wants change and the things we do to impede achieving our stated goals. This was followed by an exploration of when people say they want something but really don’t, or those who say they don’t want something but really do. Note to self: dirty hair and spandex do not appear to deter fantastic philosophical discussions.

What DO I want? How does one answer such a question? Did this fellow being a stranger give me greater license to be honest or less because I’ll probably run into him again? Do I tell him about my needs, my aspirations, or my most personal private wishes? Do I give him the equivalent of a shrug, mumbling something about: love, acceptance, contentment, purpose, and meaning? Have you had an honest conversation with yourself about what it is you truly want? This is the heart of the re-booting.


What do you want? Do you understand why you want it? When you do a gut-check, does wanting this make you afraid, excited, or both?

Long ago as a student, I was taught that when writing a research paper I needed to ask who, what, when, where, why, and what of it? Although mining the depths of our innermost psyches is far less straightforward, the five Ws present a framework that may be useful when figuring out what the hell it is we truly want and why, of all the various things we could choose, we want “this.”

Because it’s easy to wind up talking in circles when it comes to such a confusing and complicated topic, I’ll provide an example of the deductive reasoning involved:

  1. Why do/did you want to get married?
  2. Why do you want to marry X?
  3. What does being married to X represent to you? Is it an indicator of social status? Is it a vehicle for having children? Is it a financial decision? Is it a guarantee against loneliness? Or is your reason something else entirely?
  4. Why do you stay married?

Or the obverse of this line of inquiry:

  1. Why do you want to stay single? What makes it sufficiently preferable that you’re willing to forgo all the pleasurable aspects of steady companionship?

Any answer is fine. The point of this exercise is to gain clarity about why you’ve chosen these particular priorities. Take this line of inquiry and apply it to whatever is important to you–whether that’s your profession or your living situation or your outside activities. Why did you make these choices? Do these choices reflect what you truly wanted at the time or what you believed was important to achieve? Why was it so important to achieve this? And do these same goals continue to reflect what you want today? What we want changes as we evolve, mature, and grow—what you coveted in seventh grade is not the same as what you hanker for today (at least I hope not). (Truth be told, I look askance at anybody who claims they’ve retained the same priorities for decades. Life has changed all around them—haven’t they?)

Here’s an example from my life: I went to law school because I knew it was 1) a respected degree, 2) my favorite uncle was a lawyer, 3) I could always work for myself if need be, and 4) I was terrified of trying to find a job right out of college. I didn’t go to law school because I had some passionate interest in the law or thrilled at the idea of a future spent arguing about some arcane legal principle. What happened? In less than three years after graduating, I walked away from the practice of law, and in the subsequent twenty odd years have drifted further and further away from any semblance of a white collar, office-based career. While this choice feels deeply right, it has been a confusing struggle to get here. I continue to wrestle with my feelings about abandoning a prestigious-seeming career. However, I’ve set aside these more outer-oriented concerns in order to have the time and opportunity to do things more important to me: like repair my relationship with my dad and pursue my writing. Nobody else is going to care about what I do, but I care. And that’s enough.

Having laid out this example from my life, I want you to go back and ask yourself why you made the choices you did? Is studying to become a concert pianist a goal you pursued because you loved the piano so much or because someone thought it up for you? Are you a workaholic because you love your work so much or is it a way to avoid other obligations? What in your life is more about prestige or security versus arising out of a genuine and heartfelt interest? (Btw, it can be both, but it’s useful to get clear on your various personal agendas.)

That conversation with a stranger at the gym was invigorating. I love the fact that there are other people floating around asking themselves these sorts of questions and that they’re so interested that, every now and then, they’ll risk asking somebody else such a deeply personal and universal question. Which is what I’m doing here right now with you:

What do you want?


Tags: , , , , , , ,

One Response to “What is it you truly want in your life?”

  1. Helen Bird Says:

    Love it. Perfect. They get better each week! Helen

    Sent from my iPhone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: