Daring to Know What You Want

Rock StarA gorgeous woman in her mid-twenties leaned toward me, the look on her face an invitation to conspiracy.

“What I want,” she said, as though the words themselves were dangerous, “is to know what I want.”

She proceeded to list all the things she did not want, including her secretarial job, being fifteen pounds “too chubby,” and living at home with her parents.

When she wound down, I threw out the obvious: “So, what do you want?”

Startled, as though she hadn’t expected the question outright, she drew back and gripped her hands in her lap. “I don’t know,” she said.

I waited.

After awhile she said, “Maybe this therapy isn’t such a good idea after all.”

Again, I waited.

“It doesn’t really matter.”

More waiting.

“It’s not possible.”


“I probably can’t, anyway.”


Finally, in exasperation, as though she thought me too slow-witted to comprehend anyway, she yelled: “I want to be a rock star!”

“Sounds good to me,” I shouted back.

How come it’s so dangerous to say what we want? After all, it’s a natural act. Kids do it all the time.

As adults, though, it’s risky business to tell the truth about what we want, for two reasons:

  1. We’re afraid we can’t have it.
  2. We’re afraid we can.

If we imagine we can’t have it, we’re left to deal with all the feelings of undeservability, disappointment, and limitation with which we surround ourselves.

If we decide we can have it, we’re forced to face up to actually doing what it would take to make it happen.

What a rotten double bind. So, what to do? Well, the wise thing, of course. We pretend not to know. Or, we decide not to want anything at all.

Sounds good. In fact, some of us make a case for this as a major step toward enlightenment. Pointing to Eastern philosophies, we note that desire is the root of all suffering, so we’re wise not to want. We declare desirelessness a highly desirable state.

Sounds good. As with all things that sound too good to be true, however, there’s an obvious catch: Pretending to not want does not desireless make.

To consider it another way, here’s a question: Is Mother Hubbard’s dog no longer hungry just because she finds the cupboard bare? Not at all. In fact, the dog with no bone will eventually begin to chew on Mother Hubbard.

Like hungry dogs, we all want. And want. And want. If we pretend we don’t, we either starve or end up unhappily chewing on wrong bones.

True wanting, wishing, and desiring are instruments of our inner guidance system. To ignore them is to deny access to our own hearts.

“Yeah, but what’s the point of admitting what I want?” asked the rock star wannabe. “What are the odds of my actually making it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But all bets are definitely off if you never declare yourself.”

Daring to say what we want gets us unstuck and sets things in motion. It’s also an act of courage because it leads to the next layer of questions: Do we want this for its own sake? Is it our heart’s true desire? Or is it a means to some other end?

Here’s where things get dangerous again. We uncover hidden motives. Things we think we shouldn’t want, maybe, or things we’d like to avoid.

Does the budding rock star genuinely want to sing her heart out on a strobe-lit stage for throbbing crowds? Or is her wish an exciting and elaborate cover plot to escape a boring life that’s too attached to overly protective parents? Either way, saying what she wants leads toward her heart’s truth.

Unless we’re willing to say what we want, we go against ourselves. We deny our heart’s desire. And if we don’t follow our heart’s desire, I think we relinquish joy.

Risky business, all right.

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