Is what I want what-I-want?

“I’m struggling with feeling grateful,” a friend said when the spotlight turned on her at the Thanksgiving table. “I am grateful, but I don’t feel grateful.” And I was very happy she was there. It’s not easy to be honest with ourselves. 

We want to be, well, something else. Think about one of your recurring daydreams. You’re doing something well. You’re thrilled by the people you’re with. You’re completely uninhibited. You’re sitting still in a boat on a glassy lake. Your daydream here.

If you can bear it, stop for a moment. What do you want and know that you want? 

When you take the goal away, what is the feeling that’s left? Here’s an example. You want to have a job where you’re consistently respected and regularly acknowledged for that remarkable thing you do that no one does as well as you. Let’s say this is one of my daydreams. When I put myself in that scenario, I feel a simple dignity and a sense of belonging. Together, they produce a feeling of security. 

The object of wanting isn’t (only) what we want. It is how we envision pursuing what we want. In my example, the job is a means. It’s the vision I have of what I really want. But the object, the “what-I-want” is a sense of belonging and a simple dignity.

We confuse means with ends. We confuse the setting in which we want to achieve our objectives with what we want.

As this year winds down, reflect on whether what-you-want is underneath what you believe you want. See if you can explore what-I-want so that you have the chance of pursuing it in places and new ways rather than the habitual ways you tend to go looking for it.

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