What Do You Want?
A few years ago, I decided to try an experiment for the entire year. Whenever I talked with a client or someone who was searching for answers about what to do in any given situation, I would ask this one very simple question: “What do you want?”
Over the course of the year, I posed this question to a total of 48 people. What I discovered was pretty remarkable.
Only two people out of 48 could answer that question when it was posed to them.
46 people, however, had the same answer:
“I don’t know what I want”.
As I peeled back the onion further, I found a striking commonality among the people I was talking to. All of these smart, accomplished, high-achieving folks were really good at getting things done. They were constantly doing things and making things happen, and trying hard to control and manage every aspect of their lives. Their days were filled to the brim with a myriad of actions and things they needed to do or felt that they should do. What they weren’t doing at all was making space in their lives to just think and self-reflect about the meaning of it all. There was no time allotted to pause and ask the simple yet so significant questions like:
“What is important to me?”
“What do I value?”
“Is what I am doing in alignment with what is important?”
And finally, the simplest yet most poignant question of all –
“What do I want?”
How many of us know what we really want? Not what we think we should want, or what others have told us we should want — but what we truly want on a deep, internal level?
One of the two people that could answer the question I posed had just had a life-altering event happen that shook her out of her day-to-day routine achievement march into a deep soul-searching period. Her mother had very suddenly passed away at age 67 in a car accident. At the age of 44, Clara (not her real name of course) was faced head on with the hard reality of her mortality and the fragile and unknown timeline of her life. It jolted her like a bolt of lightning, causing her to stop in her tracks and re-evaluate her day-to-day activities and the trajectory of her life so far.
She was a successful mid-level executive at a large company in a marriage that had become stale and more like a business partnership than a deep, fulfilling relationship. She dutifully was doing all the things she thought she wanted — climbing the corporate ladder, running her household, and carting her kids to the myriad of activities they were involved in. At the end of each day she was frazzled and spent, checking off items on an impossibly full “to-do” list.
After her mother’s funeral, it was as if she herself had been hit “head-on” by a car metaphorically. She stopped in her tracks, took two full weeks off from work, solicited her neighbors and friends to help her with her weekend “soccer mom” duties, and made space not only to experience her grief, but to take stock of her own life so far. She asked herself a few questions that radically changed the course she was on.
“Is this what I want for my life?”
“If I died tomorrow, would I have regrets about how I was spending my time?”
“What do I want?”
Her answers were not revolutionary. She wanted a marriage that was a loving partnership with deep connection and passion. She wanted to be a good role model for her kids and provide them with a loving, consistent environment. She wanted to make a difference with the work she was doing and use her strengths every day.
What was more important in her assessment was what she didn’t want. She didn’t want to go through her days on auto-pilot, too tired and spent to enjoy the moments she was experiencing. She didn’t want to have a “business arrangement” with her husband, interacting with him as passing ships on to the next port of obligation. She didn’t want to just be a chauffeur and caretaker for her kids. And she didn’t just want an impressive title of responsibility at work without a fulfilling contribution to something she valued, playing upon her strengths.
And so Clara came out of her soul-searching making some changes. She didn’t get divorced or disown her kids or quit her job. What she did do is change her own mindset and how she oriented herself to these various parts of her life. She had defined what she wanted and what she didn’t want, and began to align the various parts of her life to be in congruence. Those answers served as her compass, helping her decide daily what action to take and what was important.
So what about you?
Do you know what YOU want?
Do you know what you don’t want?
How aligned are your actions with what is truly important to you?
What changes do you need to make to live the life you really want?
Originally published at www.themanagroup.com.