The TV program Scandal is one of my guilty pleasures. And although it has become a little cliche, I love it when the main character, Olivia Pope, asks her clients, ‘What do you want?’ It is a question worth asking ourselves. Asking it can be a starting point for getting clear on not only what you want, but also who you are. It’s a significant question - four words that when answered honestly can change the trajectory of your life.
I used to teach a communication course, and to emphasize how our voice tone impacts our message I would have participants read a sentence out loud several times emphasizing a different word in the sentence each time. I believe a modification of that activity is very helpful to use as a coaching and/or journaling activity using the question ‘What do you want?” If you would like to use a worksheet I created download it here.
1. What do you want?
Answer the question with a focus on the what. We all want different things and at different stages in our lives those things change. Here are some things that may be on your what list:
- To feel significant
- To contribute in a meaningful way
- Financial security
- Better relationships
- To travel
- To write a book
The list is endless. The challenge is to try and get as concrete as you can about your what. For example the last item in the list is ‘To write a book’. I would explore that with a client and try to help them articulate what they are hoping to achieve in writing a book. Do they want to make money, share their gifts of knowledge, have a platform to discuss an issue close to their heart? Think about your list and explore what it is you really want. Maybe travel is a way to find adventure in you life because you are bored with your life. Travel may relieve the boredom but it won’t fix your life. Once you are done with looking at the what part of the question, it is time to move on.
2. What do you want?
Maybe you know what you want but other people have an agenda for your life as well. I’ve talked to people who have struggled with family members pressuring them to have children when they have thought through what they want and are quite sure they don’t want to have kids. I know people who want to travel but their partner doesn’t want to travel - so they feel limited in what they do. They don’t travel but the resentment has built up in their relationship. It can be difficult to sort out the complexity of relationships and finding a balance between living your own life and navigating the expectations of people around you. I have lived next door to an avid gardener who would have loved for me to spend a lot of time and money creating a beautifully landscaped front lawn. It’s not important to me. Answer the question, identifying what you want - not what someone else wants. It might help you get clear or at least identify why this question is so difficult to answer. It may become evident as you think about it that you are holding back or limiting yourself because you are afraid of how it will impact a relationship if you were to start pursuing what you want. You might need to have a honest conversation with someone.
Depending on the situation, you may want to talk it through with a trusted friend, counsellor or coach. Once you’ve thought about what you want and perhaps some of the constraints you feel with other people’s agendas for your life, you can move on to the next part of the question.
3. What do you want?
It’s not uncommon to confuse want and need. We get lots of messages about what we need. Friends and family like to tell us what we need. Advertisers like to tell us what we need. All around us there are messages about what we need - to exercise more, care for the environment, to take a vacation, be a certain weight, have a certain amount of money in the bank or invested for retirement, act a certain way and on and on. Trying to sort out what you need and what you want can be a challenge. Think about what you want - what would give you joy? If you could be living a life that aligns with who you are and what is important to you, what would it look like?
One of the gifts of being in transition is that we have an opportunity to think about this question. We are in the midst of change and that gives us pause to consider the question, “What do you want?”
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