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The Question Is: What Do I Want?

The most essential thing to ask yourself for just about everything.

Key points

  • Often we don’t know what we want because we haven’t formed an opinion about it on our own.
  • Little emphasis has been placed on teaching people how to think about themselves, to know themselves.
  • Our life, our destiny ultimately lies in our own hands. If you know that, you are a free person.

This blog is a bit of a departure for me. While I like to write about topics most people can easily relate to, this piece gets to the heart of many personal feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Yet, strangely enough, amid our relationship, we often don’t ask what we want.

As a psychiatrist for many years, and well along in my own life, you would think I would know enough to ask this question myself, but no, it wasn’t obvious to me until recently. My husband recently passed away, and that has left me alone with myself for the first time in years and, maybe for the first time. The years of living life, having a family, and practicing as a psychiatrist taught me a lot about myself—how I function, what’s important to me, how I cope, how I solve problems and make decisions, to name just a few.

But I am alone for the first time, enough to be aware to ask myself, what do I want—without asking for or needing someone’s else’s input—my decision to do what I want, without asking permission, without someone’s else’s opinion, without negotiating—no discussions or compromises—just what I want. Very strange. As I thought about it and processed what this meant for me, it dawned on me that we often don’t ask ourselves this basic question, and that’s probably for several reasons.

Often we don’t know what we want because we haven’t formed an opinion about it on our own. Maybe we haven’t been given the opportunity or been encouraged to think about our own needs, what we want, and more importantly, how to know what makes us tick, and how to express it. Perhaps our opinion and/or what we want doesn’t really matter to some people. In fact, they may not even want us to know what we want because it may be counter to what they want. We may feel it’s just too selfish to express what we want, that we overthink about ourselves and not enough about others. Or maybe we’re swayed by our social group and so want whatever everybody in our immediate sphere wants.

But, if you think about it, this is really an essential issue at the core of who we are as individuals. How are we supposed to know what others want, to help them realize what they want if we have little or no idea what we want for ourselves first? Of course, we want to be happy personally, but making someone happy often becomes our job, and often a distraction that takes valuable time away from ourselves. If partners can balance what they want for themselves with what they want for their partner, that’s a good thing. But often, that’s not the case.

Sometimes the balance in a relationship is heavily weighted toward one partner; making them happy, letting them do what they want, may mean not doing what you want. If you haven’t asked yourself “the question” you may not even be aware that you’re not doing what you want, but somehow or other your feelings are telling you something doesn’t feel right.

We spend so much time in relationships (of all kinds) in our lives that the notion of being solitary and left to our own devices to decide what feels right to us is often uncomfortable. Individuals who have lived alone during their lifetime may have some advantage here. With no one but themselves to decide what to do with their time, they may be more attuned to what they want, how they want to spend their time, what interests and pursuits excite them personally.

If you had the opportunity to spend time alone and to do whatever you wanted, would you even know what to do with this time and experience? I hope you’re getting my drift. I have found that little emphasis has been placed on teaching people how to think for themselves, think about themselves, or even more profoundly, know themselves. Others influence us in our immediate sphere, and now, with social media grabbing so much of our attention, we have little time to be alone and explore what it means to be our unique selves.

Therapy is meant to help us explore who we are, to uncover pieces of ourselves we knew little about, to exorcise demons, to develop coping mechanisms to deal with any number of issues that present a roadblock and/or get in the way of finding fulfillment, to live fuller, better lives, to live fully in the present without fear of the future. Whatever the issues, the point is to gain insight into ourselves so that the things that prevent us from being the fullest expression of our unique selves are lifted and we can move forward.

But learning to ask the question, “what do I want” need not wait for therapy. Each of us can begin to ask ourselves daily this question that brings it all back to you. With the awareness of what we want comes the responsibility of seeing that our first job as a person (other than surviving) is knowing ourselves well enough to make our own choices and decisions. Yes, we may still need to compromise in order to live with others, but knowing what we want takes the burden off of blaming people and circumstances for our fate.

Our life, our destiny ultimately lies in our own hands. No one owns you but you. And if you know that, you are a free person.

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