I had coffee with a new friend the other day. He asked me the dreaded question—the same question I ask when I encounter someone who is experiencing confusion, powerlessness or frustration with his life. Answering this question can threaten the delicate balance of the answerer’s emotional and physical ecosystem. The question is, “What do you want?”
I was flummoxed. I thought I knew, but things had changed since the last time I wrote out what I wanted. You see, every now and again I list out what I want for my life. I get as detailed as possible, creating a material and emotional blueprint for my life. The more detailed I get, the more likely I am to move in specific directions and ask specific questions. Here are some examples of things I currently want:
- To develop my writing such that it supports me and a family materially and spiritually in abundance
- To start a family by the end of 2012
- To live each day joyfully and filled with love
My wants exist as possibilities. They are often unprecedented and have little relation to my past experiences. The trouble is if my past dictated what I want now, I would content myself with a heated home and a girlfriend who doesn’t shoot heroin. Not a particularly inviting future.
The most unsettling part of the question is what stating my desires entails. If I want this, then what do I have to do? Who do I need to be? What if the actions I need to take and the person I need to be are different than what I’m doing and how I’m being?
Well they are different. How do I know? Because my current actions and states perfectly ally to produce what—and only what—I currently have. In other words, I do what I do and I am what I am and that gives me exactly what I have. These actions and behaviors are manifestations of unconscious desires (looking good, comfort, etc.), which are fine, but not necessarily gratifying in the long run.
If I want things other than what I have now, I need to supplant my old actions and ways of being for new ones. For example, in order to make my living off of writing, I need to be bold, disciplined, organized, etc. These new actions and states might not jive with last night’s engorgement on grass-fed beef and sweet potatoes while watching Deadwood on DVD.
I answered my friend’s question as best I could. I’m not totally clueless as to what I want. But I also saw the need for refining what I want. It’s easier to chart a course with a map.
With these thoughts in mind, here are some exercises I’m incorporating into my life and suggest you do too:
- What do you want? Get as detailed as possible—emotional state, health, profession, relationships, living environment, etc. These desires should be authentic—i.e. they are your desires, not ones shaped by the past or someone else’s conceptions; do your best to keep what your parents’ or a multinational corporation’s desires for you out of your answers. Feel free to co-create with the people in your life; for example, make sure what you want aligns with what your wife or business partner wants. Don’t butt desires. Write them down and keep them somewhere you can see. Be willing to amend if you’re wrong about what you want.
- Who do you need to be to get what you want? This step is aligning yourself emotionally with your desires. For example, if you want to be a professional singer, but you’re too timid to audition, you will need to be courageous.
- What do you need to do to get what you want? Once you believe that what you want is possible, you will have to take certain steps—go to that audition, write that novel, quit that job, etc.
- Every morning, ask yourself “what do I need to do and who do I need to be to get what I want?” Write out your answers and let them inform how you conduct yourself in the world. See what happens.