At this time of year, many of us find it hard to escape the longings we’ve been ignoring. We seem to be collectively restless. We’re waiting for warmer weather, more sunshine and the promise of Spring. Our goals, words and intentions for the new year are either guiding us or taunting us if we have abandoned them. It's a good time to pause and think about what we want in our lives.
But for people-pleasers knowing what you want can be difficult! Do you remember the egg scene from the Runaway Bride? You can watch it here for a reminder. The character played by Julia Roberts was such an accommodator that she didn't even know how she liked her eggs. She just ordered what the person she was with ordered.
I love the question: What do you want? It is a question worth asking. It can be a starting point for getting clear on not only what you want but also who you are. It’s a huge question - four words that when answered honestly can change the trajectory of your life.
With that in mind, I am offering you an exercise to use as a journaling activity using the question ‘What do you want?”
Get out a journal or a blank note in your favourite app and try it yourself. It’s an invitation to listen to what your heart is longing for right now. Here's how I break down the question:
1. What do you want?
Answer the question with a focus on what. We all want different things and at different stages, in our lives, those things change. Here are some things that you might want:
To feel significant
To contribute in a meaningful way
Better relationshipsTo travel
To write a book
To feel free
To be part of a supportive community
The list is endless.
The challenge is to get as concrete as you can about what you want. Think about your list and explore what it is you really want. Maybe travel is a way to find adventure in your life because you are bored with your life. Travel may relieve the boredom but it won’t fix your life. Once you are done with looking at the what part of the question, it is time to move on.
2. What do you want?
I’m reading the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. You’ll be hearing more about the book but let me just touch on the first regret. The first regret, the most frequent regret that Bronnie encountered in her work with palliative patients was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” I don’t work in palliative care but I do know that so many of you are stuck following a script in your life that follows the expectations of other people.
Even when you know what you want you still face the challenge of breaking free of those expectations. I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I tried very hard to convince my children to follow a certain path when they finished high school. Neither did! It provided me with an opportunity to learn to let them live their own lives. I’ve also felt pressure internally and externally to conform in my life. It can be difficult to sort out the complexity of relationships and find a balance between living your own life and navigating the expectations of people around you. And it is worth the effort!
I once lived next door to an avid gardener who made it clear he would like me to spend time and money creating a beautifully landscaped front lawn. It’s not important to me. Nor was his opinion. But it takes a lot of courage when someone you love has made it clear that they want you to behave in a certain way.
Answer this question, identifying what you want - not what someone else wants. It might help you get clear or at least identify why this question is so difficult to answer. It may become evident as you think about it that you are holding back or limiting yourself because you are afraid of how it will impact a relationship if you were to start pursuing what you want. You might need to have a difficult conversation with someone. Depending on the situation, you may want to talk it through with a trusted friend, counsellor or coach. Once you’ve thought about what you want and perhaps some of the constraints you feel with other people’s agendas for your life, you can move on to the next part of the question.
3. What do you want?
It’s not uncommon to confuse want and need. We get lots of messages about what we need. Friends and family like to tell us what we need. Advertisers like to tell us what we need. All around us there are messages about what we need - to exercise more, care for the environment, take a vacation, be a certain weight, have a certain amount of money in the bank or invested for retirement, act a certain way and on and on. Trying to sort out what you need and what you want can be a challenge. Think about what you want - what would give you joy? If you could be living a life that aligns with who you are and what is important to you, what would it look like?
When your feeling stuck or not sure about what's next in your life this question can be clarifying. And of course, coaching is a great way to process this question.