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When you make the conscious decision to be the predominant creative force in your own life – the teller of your tale – you have to get really good at asking yourself this:
What do I want?
It’s not just about the big things. Creating a life is also about the small things, the day-to-day things, how they knit themselves into the ultimate story of you.
I was in my car about to make a dash to Starbucks for a coffee and possibly a cakepop, as I am wont to do, when I suddenly thought to ask myself
What do I actually want?
I looked out the windshield into middle space and tuned into my body, finally paying attention to my emerging flu symptoms. What I wanted, I realized, was to feel cared for and nourished, and there was nobody around who could do that for me except myself.
Radical self-care, and all that.
So for the price of a grande latte and birthday cakepop, I went to Whole Foods and got soup. And I thought about how compelling, how automatic, the pull of habit and routine, so that it overrides what you actually want and need; how easy to get swept up in the mindless chatter unless you literally step back and ask yourself
What do I want?
And that was just over soup.
Knowing what you want, let alone stating what you want, is a skill. In his blog and book FIRST KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, Andrew Halfacre says you can improve at this the same way you improve at anything: through practice. He advises you to:
“Play with starting small – make it a daily habit to have an outcome for all the small things in your life.”
“Watch with amusement as your moods go by and practice asking ‘what do I want?’ instead of ‘how do I feel?’.”
For so many of us it feels like a dangerous question. A selfish question. We might wonder if we even have the right to ask it.
We try, instead, to be all things to all people. To be nurturing in our relationships. To compete and win at work. To be pretty, hot and thin. And to make it all seem effortless.
If we can’t do it perfectly, then we shouldn’t do it at all, so we try to be perfect at everything.
This is insane.
“A funny thing happens the minute you begin to [compare yourself with others]“
…”There is a natural inclination for folks…to focus on eliminating [their] differences, rather than accentuating them.”
In other words, if you’re faster than me but I’m stronger than you, chances are I will work at improving my speed and you will work at improving your strength until we pretty much resemble each other.
But what would happen, instead, if we just doubled down on what we were already good at?
I become amazingly strong and you become amazingly fast.
Excellence in one thing almost always involves sacrifice, a willingness to be good enough or mediocre at other things.
And negative trade-offs can not only signal excellence — they can create a sense of identity and difference. They can set you apart from the herd. They can put you in a category of your own.
Instead of this quest to be all things to all people – which so often results in stress, burnout, and ultimately being nothing to no one – what if we learned to say, What do I want?
What if we learned to use that question like a machete to carve away the stuff we have little interest in and are not that good at anyway?
We could create some time and space and freedom to double down on our true interests and abilities.
Instead of pleasing others, we could focus instead on finding our true path and creating a unique identity. We could become excellent in a way that differentiates us from everybody else — and shows us who we are and can be.