9 Reasons Why You Don’t Know What You Want — and How to Know What You Want
Given that you are surely going to die, how could you give yourself the gift of a well-spent life?
That’s a big question. Add to it “who am I?”, “why am I here?” and “what is my purpose?”, and we got ourselves walking in vulcanic quicksand.
We, who were granted the freedom to choose for ourselves, are lost amidst infinite possibilities. All we want is simple, straight, concrete, practical answers to the questions above — yet, that is the one thing we don’t get. No wonder confusion seems to be the natural state of my millennial generation.
Freedom comes with the burden of having to choose for ourselves — how do we go around that? This is a crucial point in the philosophy of Nitzsche. At first exuberant about criticizing the power of religion in dictating our lives and our need to break free from it, already in the 19th century, the philosopher realized what that meant in practice: emptiness. The burden of opportunity.
If we do not have a clear moral code, an external compass, then there’s freedom, but what will we do with it? Are we even prepared for it? For many, this means to somehow negate freedom and keep themselves in some sort of prison. They do that by adopting any given set of rules (e.g. the status quo), just to not have to deal with not knowing. Avoid the emptiness at all costs; do not go into existential questions. Ignore them, make them into jokes, or give ready-made answers.
For others, this freedom means flirting with the rabbit hole — and at times, jumping right into it. Since you are reading this piece, I assume you are in this second group. Congrats, and welcome to the rabbit hole!
So I ask you.. what is it that you want?
“Everybody dies, but not everybody lives” Mark Lawrence
Here are nine reasons why knowing what we want wholeheartedly, in full alignment with ourselves, in full honesty, is so damn hard.
Reason #1: The good old status quo
Society is quite clear about what it expects of us. Go to school, go to university, get a job, raise a family. A roadmap is offered — even if many people following it are not happy, it is a concrete path. It is that path that keeps the status quo working, and therefore is the one that is offered free of charge. It keeps the market economy working, it keeps those in power there, what else can I say? Just like you don’t want to die, our structures are living organisms, concerned with their perpetuation, and they will surely promote what allows them to continue to live — which often is not what makes you, individually, happy.
Even though you can technically do whatever you want, that will require you to figure out more things on your own, with no clear roadmap. The status quo lives strong and thrives because it saves you the time and energy that would take you to figure out your own roadmap. Its main mechanism is fear: it feeds us with fear that any other road might not work.
On top of that, the status quo is full of seductive compromises. Want to be creative and fun? Then go work on an advertising agency, sell more stuff and make sure the status quo engine keeps running. Whatever you do, draw within our lines. Don’t overthink it.
It takes a lot of strength to fight something as big as the status quo. It surely takes strength to create your own roadmap.
Reason #2: We are taught to be ashamed of what we want — and to seduce to get it
Back when you were a kid, did you ever feel like skipping school but knew that if you told that to your mom she would make you go anyway? What did you learn from that? My guess: that if you don’t want to go to school you better lie. Pretend to be sick, or just skip it. Ever felt like not going to work and pretended to be sick? I wonder where that came from.
How about spotting someone extra cute in a bar, but instead of approaching the person nicely and asking for his/her number, you create a whole story to approach and hit on the person? Do this to see if they look back, do that to see if they are single, etc.
Such events teach us to be embarrassed about what we want and to fear failure. We learn we cannot just go for it, that what we want is not ok. That to get what we want, we need to play, seduce. No, do not be honest and straightforward. That won’t get you what you want.
The result? We don’t fully own what we want. We diminish it. We are self-conscious about it. It’s ingrained in our subconscious we aren’t worth it, that what we want is not ok, and we won’t get it.
Good luck getting what you want without even being able to admit to yourself that this is what you want, let alone showing up for it.
The things we are taught to be ok to want are the socially accepted ones, the status quo — the things that we already know are not enough for us.
The result of this is that we are constantly downplaying our dreams, thinking we don’t have the right to want them, thinking they are wrong, stupid. We are taught to not accept ourselves.
This is directly linked to Reason #1, as shame is a mechanism of the status quo to propagate itself. Everything that does not comply will be criticized by someone somewhere.
It takes a lot of effort to release from shame and own what we want.
If you suffer from this reason, big chances that you know what you want — you have an issue accepting and owning it.
Reason #3: Lack of self-love and self-acceptance
Worse than the shame that says we are not good enough is the result of a lack of self-love and self-acceptance. It is really hard to admit what we want and surrender to it when we believe we are not worth it.
We live in a society that thrives in us not fully accepting and loving ourselves. People who truly love and accept themselves are in peace. They don’t need to impress and compare themselves to others all the time. They don’t need to consume so much or care so much about brands. They don’t use external validation as a compass. Fear of failure, of being judged, of judging yourself all fall in this category.
Lack of self-love and self-acceptance makes us think we want a bunch of things that we don’t truly want and constantly question ourselves. The only reason we want these things is to compensate for low self-esteem or for caring for external approval.
Reason #4: You don’t take action — and have control issues
We expect to have total clarity only by thinking about things. The result is, we overthink about stuff, over-worry, and nothing happens. We stay stuck. Waiting around is not how it works. Action brings clarity. Every step forward gets you closer to something and voilá, little by little you can see it better.
Last year I started three different businesses. One of them was something I had on the back of my mind for almost two years. It took me literally a month of working on it part-time to realize that it was not going to work/it was not what I wanted. That was it, simple as that, scratched, in full honesty.
The business that came after that is the one I am truly passionate about now and working nonstop for. Would I be able to get to it without giving a shot at the previous one? I doubt it.
Action shows us what we truly feel and think underneath all that hesitation. What that desire is really like in practice. Life is practical, here and now. We are to create it, live it, not keep thinking about it. Only action will unfold even more pieces of your puzzle.
When we say we don’t know what we want when we do nothing but ruminate, what we are actually experiencing is a control issue. We want safety, to know it all with certainty before we take any action. That does not exist.
Clarity is not a constant, black and white, all or nothing. Sometimes clarity is just a crumble of curiosity about something. Take one step, see what unfolds next. To expect to have full clarity, for trumpets to play when we make the right decision is nothing but an inability to deal with a lack of control over reality — which you will never have.
Reason #5: You don’t go deep enough
I started at business school when I was 17, which means I took that decision when I was 16. I honestly did not ponder about what I was about to major for more than half a day. And so I went to business school. What for? For the belief of a successful career, money, the desire to open my own business, the love for operations, processes, and structures, the will to lead? I am not sure I went that far in my mental process. And that’s an issue.
We keep doing things without knowing why or giving ourselves superficial reasons that don’t hold together for too long. It is hard to commit to something for long when our ground is so shaky. Sooner or later, it breaks.
For instance, you say you want to be a writer, but why? Because you have a big message inside that is dying to be spread and transform society? Because you love playing with language, creating characters, and have a jolly time every time you write? Because you think it sounds romantic? Because you want to be heard and seen, recognized for writing amazing books? What is it that is really behind your wish, what is the need you are catering to?
From there we can go even deeper. Where does your need of being heard come from? Is it a sore from your childhood? Are there multiple ways to heal it? Is it so you want to be a writer, or you want to heal that sore? What is the need, and what is just a medium to do it? How honest can you be with yourself?
Whatever you think you want, is it a desire from something that is hurt in you, is it a desire from your ego, is it the will of your heart? Any kind of want is fine. It is a matter of being honest with ourselves, releasing from shame, and recognizing that there are multiple ways to approach what we want.
In a mental society disconnected from our bodies and hearts, that is a tough one to crack. To get to know what we really want, in alignment and authenticity requires a certain maturity, of purity if you will, that comes from self-connection. It’s almost like we are too scared of looking at ourselves — which takes us back to reason #3: lack of self-love and self-acceptance.
I know, this reason brings more questions than answers. But that is the point. Allow yourself to go deep enough to connect to yourself enough to live in alignment.
Reason #6: Laziness and fear
Ok, I will just put these two together. Finding your own path is somewhat of a burden, for it requires more energy and willpower from you. It is not a clear straight line as provided by the status quo. It is a personal exploratory process. In it, we have to keep walking forward, even when it is all dark and we have no idea what direction “forward” is. Are you afraid of the dark?
The only rule is to not stay stuck. For humans who do not like to spend more energy than needed, it is a tough one. We are satisficers, not optimizers. And that is why the status quo thrives so well.
Then once you know what you want, there is the laziness and fear of actually having to put on the work to make it happen. One of the main mechanisms that fear has to attack is by generating confusion. Clouding our minds, making sure we do not make choices. Go for safe short-term gains. That is nothing but fear acting on us.
Reason #7: Love and pleasure, or fear and discomfort?
Have you ever felt like eating, say, pizza, and that nothing else would satisfy your need? But then you get that pizza, taste the first bite, and from the second bite onwards you are just talking to someone else, or watching Netflix without even tasting your food anymore? Did you order the pizza out of the pleasure of having that pizza, ravishing every bite, or simply to get rid of the discomfort of wanting something you did not have?
It might sound crazy but much of what we say we “want” has nothing to do with appreciating and enjoying it. We pursue many things out of fighting against discomfort or out of fear of what happens if we don’t have them.
Start paying attention to what is it that you really cherish and you are up to something. Start noticing what is driving you — are you living joy and pleasure, or are you living to fight discomfort and fear?
It is really hard to find what we want from the heart when mechanically we are constantly reacting to the possibility of suffering.
Reason #8: Heart disconnection
Fomo, confusion, wanting everything are symptoms of mental fears and anxieties. The mind is always telling us ten thousand things, worrying, scared of committing to the wrong thing, shouting at us a bunch of “should’s, have to’s, must’s”.
The heart would never shout at us. The heart whispers. It takes training to silence the mind enough in order to listen to what the heart really wants.
Reason #9: You take yourself too seriously
You think life is black or white, failure or success, every decision life-threatening and possibly catastrophe-inducing. You forgot about your innate ability to play. That big drama freezes you, makes it all so stiff, and painful.
So…. which of these reasons are blocking you?
How to know what you want
I'm sorry to bring this to you, but there is no magical 3-step formula. Reading Sartre and Camus when I was 14 years old provided me with a lifelong ticket to ride rabbit holes. If there is anything I am a survivor of is existential crises, so let me first share my experience.
My life is full of big shifts that only came because of rabbit holes. From leaving my hometown (a paradisiac island in Brazil) to moving to one of the biggest concrete cities in the world, from having a great job position in a huge private bank to working for a small high-end fashion brand, from moving from tropical Brazil to winterland Sweden, from quitting everything on a long sabbatical to now being about to leave home yet again. All of those jumps came from a mixture between clarity and confusion. There was some clarity about being done with what has been and knowing it is time for the next pivot — but not enough clarity to see what is to come.
I’ve been lost so many times some might call it a shitshow. For instance, I quit my job with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do. And that is how I went on a sabbatical for over two years. Yes, you read it right: not three months, not six months, not one year. Two years. Did I know how long I was going to be on sabbatical? Nope. But I knew this was not an extended holiday; this was a full-time rabbit hole. I accepted I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to continue where I was, and I surrendered to the emotional roller coaster.
Was I freaking out about money before I quit? Yes. There is no such thing as courage without fear, and where there is fear there is potential for confusion. That does not mean we freeze and stay stuck. We face fear, take our chances to clear out the confusion, and learn from our moves. Did I become homeless, starved, and lost my faith in humanity? No.
So… how to survive the rabbit hole, you ask?
Surrender to not knowing
Accept that this is where you are, and stop fighting it. Stop putting it under the carpet, judging yourself about it, and allow yourself to take a look at the rabbit hole. We all get lost at some point, big deal. Welcome to being human. Make peace with it. Walk towards the mess instead of from it. Keep asking yourself what you want, and dare to go deeper.
That is in itself a huge step towards healing reason #3, self-love and self-acceptance.
Babe, you gotta have faith
Believe that it will be fine. That there is light on the other side of the tunnel. That there is more to life and to you. That the journey is what it is for the better version of you to rise.
Faith is what keeps us going. It is not a religious thing, it is merely a non-defeated mindset. Pessimists have no chance here. To walk forward towards anything, you need to have faith in it. Every step, every action you take towards anything is an act of faith in some belief. We can’t initiate and change things without faith.
We all believe in something, be it that we will thrive by following the rules, that we are doomed, or that we can expand beyond our current situation and make things better.
If you are to overcome the resistance of your status quo, you need to have faith there is something in there for you, and you have to hold on to that belief. At the end of the day, it is faith in something more, in something better, that overcomes fear.
“Faith is critical to all innovation. Without faith, it is suicidal to be a leader, to act like a heretic.” Seth Godin
Important here is that facing your confusion does not mean taking yourself so seriously. Relax a bit, be gentle, give yourself love. Follow your interests, follow curiosity, go play. Take action by doing what brings you joy. See this as a creative self-exploratory process of being better friends with yourself. Allow it all to unfold step by step, without the need for full clarity from day 1.
Explore possibilities from a place of curiosity, joy, willingness to live. Life is not black and white. Laugh at yourself, at the absurdity of it all.
Connect more with yourself = reprogram yourself
Our answers lie within each one of us — but to hear them and believe them, we need to connect more to ourselves. This is something we don’t learn in school, as the status quo thrives in obedience and compliance.
As you can see in the list of reasons presented in this piece, they mostly come from our heads, from our self-talk, from our beliefs. It takes reprogramming that we are worth it, that we are good enough, that what we want is a valid dream. To love ourselves more.
Accept that a long period of lack of connection to your heart won’t be fixed within two days. You are fighting decades of social and mental programming here. Be gentle and allow this deprogramming to dissolve. Even if you know things on a mental level, to have them embodied in your whole being is a whole other thing. Your mind is not as much in control here as you would like to believe.
Why so busy?
Make space for nothing. Simplify your schedule, and don’t be always busy. Allow yourself to be bored and feel lost. Dissatisfaction and even anger are fuel. These feelings will push you to walk forward and get out of where you are. If you keep distracting yourself, watching funny videos, being on your phone, overworking, and who knows what, then you are using your energy to well… distract yourself and stay stuck.
Who are your friends?
Surround yourself with people who inspire you, who show you in practice what is possible, people that love themselves. These people will automatically reprogram your mind simply by showing what is possible.
Read success stories, watch documentaries about people who have done things that inspire you. Feed yourself with motivation, inspiration, faith.
Being with other people who are stuck in these same issues will do nothing but hold you back.
Here is the tricky part: the point is to get inspiration and expand your mind. Not to compare yourself to others, to imitate them, or to be anything but yourself.
Contemplate your situation
Contemplate and assess what is working in your life now and what is not. At the end of every day, write down the top three things of that day and the struggles you had. Bring your attention to what is already working, that you are grateful for, and take action to expand them even more in your life. Also, acknowledge what is not working, and take actions to reduce them.
Take my online course, “Set Your Intentions: What do you want?”
This is a creative self-exploratory program where you get to connect more to yourself and dig deeper into your heart. The whole program has 11 lessons and is designed to support you to get clarity and alignment. Learn more here.
Ready for more clarity about what you want and making your dreams come true? Check out my community, Become, HTTP://become.mn.co