What do I want? That’s almost as powerful a question as “Who am I?” For when we don’t express what we want in a true and heart-felt way — first and foremost to ourselves — we lose a vital part of our joy in being exactly who we are.
Ironically, in a society that over-values individualism, asking this question can lead to inner discomfort and conflict. Is it okay to express what I really want? Shouldn’t others come first? Isn’t it selfish? And from another more helpless or cynical angle we may also ask, Can I really get it? Isn’t it just illusion? Yet the question of what we want is built deeply into our natures, it seems, and suppressing it may well also suppress the actions that could lead to positive fulfillment. As a consequence we may live some other indirect and perhaps destructive method for achieving our heart’s desire. If I suppress my desire for recognition, for example, I may find myself acting out — becoming inconsiderate or controlling — and that gives me the recognition, alright, just not in a healthy way. So the very effort to be “unselfish” backfires. We want what we want — and we need to know what that is.
What do you want, really? Is it something you can say? Isn’t it what you are privately thinking about as you travel from one station in life to the next? As you wait for the door to open this time?
At night, at college when I was twenty years old, I would lie in my bed waiting for that door, sensing a “something” that seemed to bridge an inner darkness with the outer darkness of my dormitory room. The bridge carried me toward my dreams as I fell asleep. It was nothing at all, and yet it carried me through nights and days like a hand that pointed, “this way.” And the hand appeared each time I asked myself the question of what I wanted. I’m not making this up. This is not poetry. It’s just what happened.
Over the years, as I’ve done my coaching and consulting work, I’ve learned about many people, and I’ve listened to a great many answers to the question. The answers did not necessarily come out directly. Sometimes, they came from actions or, more precisely, the contradiction between words and actions. Some wanted to be right. Some wanted a rich sense of connection and meaning, others simply to belong. Some wanted an orderly life. Some wanted something safe and unthreatened. Some wanted to express their love and to change the world in a positive way. A few wanted to be in control. Others wanted to find the truth, or live a gift. And a few wanted to just get through this thing called life without too much trouble.
To acknowledge these inner desires often meant that a person had to become conscious of living in contradiction, for the desire didn’t match the self-image, who the person thought he or she was or should be. And that’s part of it, too, learning to make use of the recognized contradiction. I remember a client who had achieved success and progression in her career only to find herself encased in what she called, her “emotional armor.” At work she was a warrior, but in her heart she wanted to be able to be herself, a more vulnerable person. Putting that contradiction in front of her, making that her reality and focus, became a hand pointing her toward her own best wisdom and integration of herself with her work.
It is all too easy to put aside these things you want, to hold them separate, to hide them within an adopted persona. If you do that long enough, the true heart one day finds itself surrounded by wire and you become a quiet but restless person. Your heart becomes merely a secret yearning you have learned to pass by as you ride the train from whatever is here for you today to whatever might be there for you tomorrow.
Link to blog posting.
Link to Oestreich Associates website.
Sign up for monthly email newsletter on reflective leadership.