This week, both Aidan and Mama have posted thought-provoking musings on the question of what we want. This is a topic that resonates deeply with me, and one on which I have no good answers. I can relate to both Mama’s sense of oh my God, this is my life? and to Aidan’s sense that as long as we keep asking the questions things will eventually turn out okay. That is, after all, where the vast design comes in … right?
For me the most basic realization that the question What Do You Want? brings up is that I truly have no idea. I wish I did. It is a perennial quest, this effort and need to tune into my own voice, my own deepest desires and wishes. A quest that I continue to fail at – but I keep dusting myself off and starting over. And I do think that what we want shifts over time, sometimes so gradually that you wake up one morning and realize: hey, things are different now, where I am no longer fits.
This is one of those topics that, for me, can get awfully abstract awfully fast. That is why I loved Jonathan Fields’ post on a related issue so much. He focuses on what he cares about, rather than what he wants, but of course those two things are inextricably correlated. This is, I guess, one place to start: what I care about. Maybe I will see patterns on that list that will help shed some light on what I want.
I won’t share the list now, because I don’t have it yet, but I do know the two little people in that photograph are at the top of the list. I care profoundly about them and I want intensely certain things that have to do with them. But they, and all that they represent, are not all I want or care about. And, in fact, some of the things I suspect I want are actually in conflict with the things I want that have to do with my children. That’s where so much of the tension in my life comes from. I know many women feel this, too, and I am grateful for their companionship because it eases the bone-deep guilt.
This is one of the fundamental questions I struggle with when it comes to what we want. I imagine it’s pretty common for some of the things we want to be in direct conflict with or opposition to each other. Life is, after all, a series of choices and compromises. But how do we parse this set of trade-offs, and how do we live with the regret or unknown about the things we have to leave behind? I’ve never been good at closing doors, which explains a lot of how I wound up where I am professionally (and is why my latest MBTI result of S vs. N does not make sense to me). Ultimately, I know that choosing the road that closes the fewest doors and displeases the fewest people is not the way to happiness. That is not what I truly want.
There are a lot of things that go into a life, and what we want is only one component (and often not the most important one) of that. I think, often, of these marvelously simple and wise sentences by Carol Edgarian (thank you, Lacy):
Obviously, how much what we want plays into what our lives do and might look like ebbs and flows over the course of time. There are other people who lay claim to parts of our life, to parts of what we want (or should), and this changes our trajectory forever. I know that this is both inescapable and, finally, a big contributor to true happiness, and that being realistic about how much freedom we have to pursue our wants and dreams is important. But I still think that listening to what we really and truly want is vital to an authentically-lived life.
On this second day of my 36th year I know that my life is both exactly as I planned it and nothing like I imagined it. I will continue my efforts to figure out the answer – at least today’s answer, or part of it – to the essential question of what I want. And I am glad for those friends near and far whose questions and support and prompting help me get closer to those answers. Thank you.