Do You Know What You Want?
I recently came across an incredible interview with Oprah Winfrey, a huge advocate for doing our deep personal work. This part stands out for me the most:
“Most people don’t know where they want to go. A lot of people are being driven by what they think they should do, what other people say they should do, what they have carried in their mind for a long time what they should do. But the most important question you can ever ask yourself is ‘What do I really want?’ Once you can establish for yourself what the answer to that really is and have everything you do, every choice you make, move you in the direction of what you say your vision is. And when you do that, the forces of life rise up to meet you.”
As a recovering people pleaser, more likely to follow my shoulds rather than my want tos, Oprah’s words really land for me. Pleasing others feels good. I tell myself they’ll like me better and that they won’t reject me. But wait a minute. Where’s the bigger personal vision in all of that pleasing? Am I even aware that this automatic, unconscious desire to please is driving me? Where’s the satisfaction in that? I learned the hard way in my corporate career that building a life based on pleasing simply leads to resentment, dissatisfaction and burn out. By trying to please others I rejected myself.
What about you? How do Oprah’s words land for you? Do you truly know what you want? Maybe you know what you want and you get derailed when you take your first step forward or when you try something and it doesn’t work out. There are many stages here where we can get lost or stuck.
If you resonate with Oprah’s words, you are so not alone. Struggling to know what you want in the first place and/or struggling to create momentum towards what you want are very common issues for those of us who grew up in challenging environments. Think about it for a minute. When you were a child, did the adults around you ask you what you wanted? Did they attune to your needs and desires?
We learn to know what we want in childhood when the adults around us care about what we want. We learn to pursue what we want when as children, adults helped us keep going when it was hard. When Adverse Childhood Experiences dominate, the child’s desires take a back seat and daily survival becomes front and center. The child adapts by moving away from their authentic self-expression (I want, I need) and into their survival self. The survival self takes many, many forms: I must stay hidden. I must please. I must get it right. I must work really hard all of the time. I must do this all by myself. I must appear to have it all together at all times. These are just a few of the flavors. What’s your favorite? Children learn to live with this disconnection from who they truly are and act as if they are this survival self. This strategy is brilliant and necessary for that child in that old environment.
Except now we’re adults so what’s going on? There are two pieces here: what you truly want & the old “I shoulds.” It’s a dilemma that lives inside us and whips us around mercilessly until we do something about it. On one side lives your vision driven by who you authentically are. On the other side those “I shoulds” make sure that survival self stays firmly in place because it can’t possibly be safe to authentically express, to succeed, to pursue what we want. Except that is safe now.
I have a very persistent pattern of literally coming up with some urgent chore I absolutely must do every single time I sit down to write. It starts as a physical vibration in my body. There’s that old wiring. There is certainly nothing urgent about folding that pile of laundry but deep inside part of me still believes that expressing myself creates a mortal threat. So I acknowledge the fear and write anyway because it serves my vision of easing ACEs-related suffering in the world. I know I no longer live in my childhood environment where staying quiet kept me safe.
So how do we shift this pattern? For me it helped to start with little things like I want this food, I want to go for a hike, I want to organize my cabinet this way. That opened the space for bigger wants. I also made space to feel the feelings about what happened when I was little. I can’t change what happened but by reclaiming my anger, I made even more space to know what I want now.
When I work with people, the first place I always start is “What do you want most for yourself today?” That question flips the script and helps you reconnect with your needs and desires. It moves away from that old paradigm of “there’s something wrong with you and I know how to fix it.” That’s not my role and you aren’t broken. It also helps you move out of the old, unconscious belief that it’s unsafe to want, express, feel etc.
By starting with what you want, together we help you uncover and nurture your vision for yourself helping you move away from your survival self (thank you very much for keeping you alive) and towards your authentic self, a place of increased fulfillment, joy and freedom. This is the place where, as Oprah says, the forces of life rise up to meet you.
Interested in writing as a way into this journey? Check out Write Into Freedom, a Gateless writing salon where we will use the power of the written word to journey inward.