Most People Have No Idea What They Want From Life—Here's Why
Have you ever paused long enough to ask yourself what you really want? I mean blocking off time just for you, getting really quiet, and allowing yourself the time to ponder on what it is your heart truly desires.
Because often, what we think we want and what we actually want are not actually the same thing.
Why we’re so disconnected from our desires
We all have unique and personal dreams hidden away in our hearts. But more often than not, those desires get buried beneath a lifetime of external pressures, from parents or society. Obligations masquerade as goals that we think we “should” aim for, instead of what we truly want.
For many of us, our goals are not our goals; they were handed down to us from others. Our dreams aren’t necessarily our dreams; they were passed down from the generation above, and their dreams for us became our dreams.
All the key milestones have been set out for us. Go to college, find love, begin your career, get married, buy a house, have 2.5 kids, climb the corporate ladder. We set out to check the boxes one by one until at some point (sometimes earlier on the journey, sometimes later) something doesn’t feel right.
At some point we think, Wait, what if there’s more?
That thought is the first sign that it’s time to reconnect to our own inner voice. Taking time to listen attentively within ourselves can provide us with invaluable insight into our genuine aspirations.
3 thought patterns getting in the way of knowing what you want
Unlocking our inner wisdom can be intimidating at first. We've been used to making decisions based on society's expectations. It takes courage and dedication to rekindle our trust in ourselves—but it’s worth every bit of effort for a deeper connection with your true self.
In my work with women seeking to better understand themselves, we spend a lot of time peeling back the layers of the onion. One of the ways I recommend doing this is by ensuring we’re not spinning our wheels answering any of the questions below, which often get in the way of truly getting to the heart of what we want.
Wrong question No. 1: What is available to me?
A friend of mine was extremely unhappy with her job and had been for a while. She began searching for new jobs by looking at LinkedIn postings and other listings in her industry. As she began half-heartedly sending in applications, I asked her, what do you want from your next job? Turns out, she hadn’t actually taken the time to articulate it! All she knew was that she wanted out of where she was.
We limit ourselves when we don’t allow what we want to drive the end result and instead just choose what is right in front of us. As I say to my clients all the time, order off the menu! There is so much more available to us once we define what it is that we want.
Wrong question No. 2: What should I want?
Many of us have been raised on a cacophony of “shoulds.”
I was raised on the east coast of Canada by first generation immigrants from India. In my community, the “shoulds” sounded like, “You should be a doctor, a lawyer, or engineer.” If you rebelliously wanted to do anything outside of that, it was assumed you just weren’t smart enough to pursue the three “best options.”
“Shoulds” can follow us all the way through our careers. I recently coached the president of a retail company who had just stepped down from her role. Her big “should” included joining company boards. She dragged her feet to interviews for board positions and ultimately wasn’t selected anyway. Her “should” led to a lot of wasted time and energy.
Make sure that as you explore what you truly desire, it doesn't include a list of “shoulds.”
Wrong question No. 3: What do I think I can have?
This is a big one. When you try to answer the question What do I really want?, are you allowing yourself to dream big? Are you allowing your imagination to fly and to consider what it is that would light you up and make you come alive? Or are you limiting your wants to what you think you can have? If it’s the latter, you’re selling yourself short. Notice when your limiting beliefs are holding you back from what it is that would make your heart sing.
How to actually figure out what you want
I want to challenge you to set aside time just for you. Go to a coffee shop or a park or a favorite, quiet corner of your home. Grab your notebook and pen and ask yourself, What do I want? Write down what comes up for you.
Then run your answers through the questions above. Are the desires you wrote down a true reflection of what you want? Or are they what is most obviously available to you, or what you think you should want, or what you think you can have? If your answer is yes to any of these three questions, go deeper.
What you really want is on the other side of the limitations you’ve placed on what is available to you.
Kena Paranjape is a mindset coach, founder of All You Are, and host of the Be All You Are, a mid-life awakening podcast. She guides professional women approaching mid-life who are done checking boxes and instead want to create a life that feels aligned with who they are. She has an MBA from the University of Toronto.