Set your Sights

How to know what you truly want

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.”

– Plato

Some close friends and I were talking at lunch the other day.  We wandered through job antics, our deep JJ Abrams Star Envy, the bittersweet joy of parenting…  until we landed finally on a shared feeling of want…  Want of something else, something more… Something indescribably obvious.

“What do you really want?” I asked my friend.

“Ah, that is The Question.  If only I could answer that. ”

It stuck with me.  I kept turning it over in my mind.  Do people not know what they want?  Did my friend not know what he wanted?   Wait…  Do I know what I want!?

The moment struck.  A moment most of us have had, possibly many times in our lives. (Possibly all the time?) It’s a moment when you realize that you have this feeling, this want of something…. Else? More? Obviously indescribable, but a feeling nonetheless.  You want but you don’t know what.  It is an endless feeling… A loop, a glitch in the matrix… to quote U2: you’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it.

You can’t resolve the feeling of want because it isn’t actually want that you feel.  It is lack.  LACK keeps us wanting.   If we grow up thinking in terms of not enough, we will constantly feel that something is lacking.  Maybe we don’t make enough money to deal with the fact that our car isn’t big enough for our family to squish into anymore because our kids aren’t well behaved enough in the backseat because we aren’t present enough to teach them…  We need to get a new job but probably won’t get one because we aren’t qualified enough, or maybe we just don’t have enough time, or worse yet…. There aren’t enough jobs.

In this kind of thinking, everything is limited.   Resources are scarce.   It seems hopeless.   And then we take the plunge into some emotional swamp doing alternating circuits of depression and anxiety… Trying to think our way out of problems that haven’t happened yet and then feeling sad that nothing is changing.  If you focus on scarcity, if you believe in lack and “not enough”…  Then you will stay in the loop, wanting something you can never have because…. It doesn’t exist.

And still… You want.  I want.  We all want.


How many of us are clear about what we truly want?

If we are clear about what we want, how clear are we about why we want it?



Let’s look at a couple of examples from my own lists of misguided wants:

If I desire more money from work, is that truly what I want?  Why do I want the money? So that I can pay down my house, my car, and my ever-lingering student loan.   Why do I want to pay them down?  To get out of debt so that I have more expendable income each month.   Why do I want that?  So that I have more money to travel with my family.  Why do I want that?  Because I want us to see the world and have experiences together.  And why do I want that?  Because I value togetherness, new experiences, and a sense of “worldliness”.  Those are the things I value.  Those are the things I want.

Now that I know that, I can look for ways to receive those things that do not require as much money as I might think they do.  Can I still want the money to pay the debt so that I can travel? Yes.  Could I also choose not to pay extra on the debt and instead save for vacations now?  Yes, I could do that also.  Regardless of which I choose, I can always pursue time together with my family and new experiences in the world… even if it’s only at the small town 50 miles from here. In this instance, I know what I truly want and why I want it.

Something else I might want from my work are “resume bullets.”  I want to gain experience and accomplishments that I can add to my list.  Why do I want this?  Because I think it will give me credibility in the future, whether I’m landing a new client or speaking to an audience.  I think that the credibility is important and I think that certain experiences can be recorded on a resume as to imply credibility.  Why do I want credibility?  Because I think that without it, people won’t listen to me or take me seriously.  This answer leads me to a new question:  Do I fear not having enough credibility?  Apparently so.

Now, I have acknowledged a fear… a feeling of “not enough”.  Now I know where the real work need be done…within myself to determine why I think I lack credibility.  And I know that what I actually want is to feel credible… which has nothing to do with resume bullets.  It has to do with my own self-esteem.

One path to understanding what you truly want is to ask yourself:  “What do I want?”  Immediately followed by “Why do I want it?”  Then continue to ask yourself why until you arrive at one of two answers:

  • Because that is what I value.
  • Because I fear “not enough”.

I challenge you to do that now.  Begin the questioning process for yourself.  Review your wish list, your goals, or your New Year resolutions… Take out a piece of paper and write down the answers to the questions you ask yourself:  What?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

I hope that you arrive at an answer…  and I hope that the answer helps you to choose more clearly in the future.  Clarity about the true nature of your wants can set you free from worry and self-doubt.  It can lead you to real fulfillment.  You deserve that, right?  So… I ask again

What is it that you truly want?



“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

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