Three Reasons You Don’t Know What You Want

Originally published Wednesday, 05 March 2014.

This blog post first appeared over at - you can read more about Allison there! 

In one sense, it seems like it would be easy to admit exactly what you want. After all, who doesn’t want the opportunity to voice their opinion get what they want?

And yet, I talk to people all the time (I am one of them) who have a really hard time knowing or admitting what they want.

Photo Credit: Paul Stocker, Creative Commons

From something as simple as, “where you do want to go to dinner?” to something as complicated as “where do you want to go to college?” or “Who do you want to marry?” maybe you find yourself thinking: I just don’t know.

That’s where I found myself a few years ago. When it came to smaller decisions, it wasn’t that big of a problem. If I was with a group of friends, and we were deciding where to go for dinner or what movie to watch, I prided myself on being flexible. I would let everyone else make the decision and just “go with the flow.”

I figured this was a good quality, and in many ways it was.

But even when it came to the bigger decisions in my life—like what jobs I was going to take, or who I was going to date or marry, I just never really felt like I knew exactly what I wanted. And in this case, the tendency I had to waffle back and forth between wanting one thing, and then wanting another, drove me crazy.

It felt like I wanted something different depending on what people around me wanted, and that frustrated me to know end.

What did I want?

Then, one day, a friend asked me a question that totally changed my life. She said, “What would you do with your life if you could do anything—if you didn’t have to think about what would make other people happy, or about paying your bills or about fitting in with your particular group of friends?”

At first her question frustrated me. It seemed selfish and wrong to answer a question like that. Who really got to live their life without considering what others would think? Who was able to really quit thinking about money?

Nobody, right?

But in many ways, my life started at that moment.

It wasn’t until I allowed myself to answer this question that I found peace and clarity I was longing for.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what it is that keeps us from admitting, owning, knowing or chasing what we really want—what it was that kept me from engaging that question. And if I look deep enough into my own heart, I realize there are three things that were keeping me from answering this question in an honest way.

First, we think it’s selfish to want stuff.

This was something that kept coming up in my spirit over and over again, and every time I ask people the “what would you do if you could do anything” question, I get a similar response. People say, “Before I do anything, I just want to make sure my motives are pure.”

The problem is, what I discovered when I finally allowed myself to want something was  admitting my desire was the first step to purifying my motives.

As I moved toward a life of meaning, by listening to what I desired, my motives were naturally refined.

It’s not selfish to want stuff. In fact, one of the most selfless things we can do is to dream. Not only is dreaming humbling, dreaming changes us, and changes those around us. Our dreams might not change the whole world, but they will change the part of the world we live in.

Second, we’re waiting on God to tell us what we should want.

Before I quit my full-time job, I would have told you I was “waiting on God” to show me what to do with my life; and I talk to dozens (if not hundreds) of people who say the same thing. I wrote a whole post about why I think this is the wrong approach, but the main idea is this:

What if, while we’re busy “waiting on God,” He’s busy waiting on us?

What if he’s asking, “Okay, so what do you want to do with your life?”

Finally, we’re afraid we don’t have what it takes to get what we want

A huge part of why I was afraid to admit what I wanted was because I was scared I would never get it. I really wanted to be a full-time writer but I didn’t know many full-time writers, and for some reason I just assumed it was a profession for a few elite or lucky people who happened to be able to achieve that type of success.

For me, I figured, I should just stick with what I knew could work.

What I didn’t realize was that most people (I might even venture to say all people) who get what they truly want in life get it not because of extraordinary luck or in-born talent, but because they are willing to admit what they want, willing to go without it for a time, and willing to work their butts off to achieve it.

At some point, I just realized: wouldn’t it be better to admit what I truly wanted, even if I never got it?

Wouldn’t that be more satisfying than going the rest of my life without being honest about myself?