What should I do with the rest of my life?
What is my calling?
What will make me happy?
What am I deeply passionate about?
How can I create more meaning in my life?
These are the kinds of big, important questions my clients are seeking answers to when they come to me.
So far, not one client has been searching for answers to life’s smaller questions such as what to wear to a party, what movie to see, or where to go for dinner.
There is a connection, though, between the big and the small questions in our lives: they are both easier to answer when you are in touch with what you want.
How Could You Not Know?
You might think you should know what you want. Doesn’t everyone? Certainly by the time we are 50 we should know what we want!
In reality, many women do not know what they want. They have lost touch with that part of themselves.
Have you spent any time with a toddler? I’ve never met one who wasn’t clear what she or he wanted (sometimes much to the chagrin of the parents!).
Yet somehow by the time we’re adults, we’ve often learned to not be aware of or pay attention to what we truly want.
How Does This Happen?
Once you were a toddler who knew what you wanted. Now you may be an adult who doesn’t. At least you may not know as often or as clearly as you did when you were a child.
What happened between then and now?
There are many factors that could have caused you to become disconnected from your desire.
* You may have sensed danger in knowing what you wanted. What if your wants upset or angered the people in your life (parents, spouse, partner, friends) whose love and approval you sought?
* Perhaps you didn’t want to risk disappointment. What if you wanted something intensely and didn’t get it?
* Maybe you were so focused on taking care of and pleasing others, you set yourself and your wants aside. Isn’t that what good little girls do?
* It could be you realized that if you let yourself know what you wanted you would then need to take some action or ask for something. Better not to know.
* When someone asked you what you wanted you might have responded with “I don’t know” or “It doesn’t matter” or “Whatever you want” so often that eventually you became cut off from the place in you that knows. (Surely I’m not the only woman who has answered the question, “Where would you like to go to dinner?” with “Where would YOU like to go?”)
Whatever the causes, if you’re like many women, you are not able to clearly discern what you want as often as you’d like.
Knowing what you want is like a muscle: if you don’t use it, it atrophies. As your “knowing what you want muscle” weakens, you lose the guidance it offers for life’s many choices, large and small.
A High Cost
Our desires are an important part of who we are. They motivate us to take action towards whatever it is we want.
When you’re thirsty, your desire to quench that thirst will lead you to drink. If you want to be a kind person, that desire will motivate you to act kindly. If you want do the Breast Cancer 3-Day, that desire will get you training so you’ll be able to finish the walk.
Everything we do is driven by some kind of desire.
But what if you’re not clear about what you desire?
What if you’ve lost touch with that knowing?
What if you can access it sometimes but not always or not often?
Without the clarity, power, and action that comes from knowing what you want it is much more difficult to create a life you love.
I’ve worked with many women who say they don’t know who they are, who feel bored and stuck, or who are unclear what to do with their lives. It’s often the case that they have so long run their lives by “shoulds” and to please others that their connection to what they want is faint.
Part of my work with clients is strengthening their connection to what they want; it’s a critical piece in discovering and creating what they would love to do with their lives.
You “work” that muscle by listening to it. When you pay attention to what you want, you strengthen your ability to know what you want.
I pay attention to what I want by noticing what lights me up. You may discover your desires through your lights, intuition, heart, inner voice, or some other way.
Whatever signals you use to identify what you want, pay attention to them. The more you notice and follow these clues, the more you’ll build your “muscle” for discerning what you truly want.
In Your Life
To strengthen your ability to know what you want, I recommend practice, practice, practice. Here are a few tips.
1) Start small. Lift the five pound weights first. Rather than “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” begin with smaller questions such as “What would I like to do for fun today?” or “Who do I want to invite to dinner?”
2) Frequently throughout the day, stop and ask yourself, “What do I want right now?” What would you want if you had no judgment, doubt, worry, or fear about it?
3) Give yourself time to notice your responses. What, if any, answers come up for you? What are the little whispers or glimmers or faint clues?
4) Let yourself off the hook. You don’t have to do anything at this point. You’re just building your muscle.
You don’t have to ask for what you want or act on what you want or make any decisions based on what you want. All you have to do initially is just notice. Nothing more.
The more you notice what you want, the easier it will become and then, when you’re ready you can choose whether or not to act on your noticing.
5) Be patient with yourself. If you’ve spent years ignoring yourself, it may take a while to rebuild that connection.
As you become more skilled in discerning your wants on the smaller questions, you may be surprised to discover you’re clearer about the bigger questions.
Knowing what you want in life is a crucial step in creating a life filled with pleasure, passion, and purpose.
Want Help Building Your “What Do I Want” Muscle?
If you’ve spent years only faintly or occasionally paying attention to what you want, it can be challenging to rebuild that muscle. If you’d like some support strengthening that muscle and creating a life with more pleasure, passion, and purpose, check out Loving Your Sixties one on one coaching.