Have you ever been so desperate for something you were willing to make all kinds of compromises to get it?
I felt this way after I finishing my first (and only) marathon. When I stumbled over the finish line, I was so desperate for food, I was literally willing to eat anything anybody would hand me. I have food allergies—and certain foods, like gluten, that I haven’t eaten in years. But somehow that didn’t register as a problem to me in the moment.
Someone handed me a turkey sandwich—on a huge piece of bread—and I grabbed it and took a gigantic bite.
I was so desperate.
Of course, that’s an easy story for me to tell because, well, “hey, look at me, I ran a marathon” but the story I should also tell is about the time I stayed in an unhealthy relationship for way too long because I was desperate not to be single.
Desperation can be dangerous.
Desperation can cost us something.
My friend is a real estate agent and one of the first things she’ll teach you when you’re shopping for houses is about walk-away power. “Don’t ever get so attached to a house,” she explains, “that you lose your ability to walk away.”
If you do that, the seller retains all the power.
They can overcharge you, or make you jump through unnecessary hoops, or pit you against other buyers to raise the price. And, when I think about it, I realize the same is true in a lot of other areas of life.
When you’re so desperate (like I was) for a significant other, that you’re willing to take anyone who will have you, you wind up finding yourself in a situation that steals part of you from yourself. Or, more accurately, you just give it away. Worst of all, what you get in return doesn’t meet the need you were hoping it would meet in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.
Not only is desperation dangerous, it’s also unattractive.
Don’t you think?
That’s the thing I tend to forget about desperation. It’s not just that it causes me to give away my power, but it’s incredibly ugly. When someone is living out of his or her desperation, we don’t take them seriously. We can’t take them seriously. They’re not presenting their real self.
It doesn’t matter if it’s dating, or eating, or shopping for a house.
When someone is willing to compromise what they truly want in order to get what they think they need, we roll our eyes, or shrug our shoulders. There is perhaps empathy and care, but not respect or admiration.
None of us want to live this way.
I guess I figured I had learned this lesson a long time ago, and in a way, I had. But I see it pop up all the time in my life these days. When it comes to vocation, for example, or to money, or even in the way I relate to my husband. I find myself sacrificing what I really want, believe or deserve because I’m desperate for something else.
I’ll keep my opinions to myself because I’m desperate for acceptance.
I’ll settle for less money than I usually charge on a certain project because I’m desperate for someone to tell me my time is worth it.
I’ll take a job I don’t really want because I’m desperate for cash.
I’ll act in passive-aggressive or manipulative ways because I’m desperate for some ego-stroking or encouragement.
And lately, as I’ve caught myself doing this, all I can think is what my real estate friend says to her clients (in a lighthearted way) when she felt like they are getting too stuck on a particular house. “Excuse me, your desperation is showing,” she’ll say. And everyone will laugh, and realize she is right.
It doesn’t change what they want, but it helps them to retain their intrinsic power, and keeps them from doing something foolish.
So this is what I’ve been telling myself lately.
Each time I catch myself ready to make a decision out of desperation, instead of out of my values, my character, or my love, I stop and look in the mirror and say to myself, in a lighthearted way, “Excuse me, your desperation is showing.” It doesn’t change what I want, but it helps me refocus what I’m about and what I’m willing to sacrifice to get it.
And when we make decisions like this, instead of out of our desperation, we might have to live without something we want for a little longer, but we hold onto the things that are most valuable. And when the fulfillment of our desire finally comes, it’s so much more satisfying.
It’s the real thing, instead of a substitute.
Cash, instead of a counterfeit.