Three Reasons You Don’t Know What You Want

In one sense, it seems like it would be easy to admit exactly what you want. After all, who doesn’t want the opportunity to voice their opinion get what they want?

And yet, I talk to people all the time (I am one of them) who have a really hard time knowing or admitting what they want.

Photo Credit: Paul Stocker, Creative Commons

From something as simple as, “where you do want to go to dinner?” to something as complicated as “where do you want to go to college?” or “Who do you want to marry?” maybe you find yourself thinking: I just don’t know.

That’s where I found myself a few years ago. When it came to smaller decisions, it wasn’t that big of a problem. If I was with a group of friends, and we were deciding where to go for dinner or what movie to watch, I prided myself on being flexible. I would let everyone else make the decision and just “go with the flow.”

I figured this was a good quality, and in many ways it was.

But even when it came to the bigger decisions in my life—like what jobs I was going to take, or who I was going to date or marry, I just never really felt like I knew exactly what I wanted. And in this case, the tendency I had to waffle back and forth between wanting one thing, and then wanting another, drove me crazy.

It felt like I wanted something different depending on what people around me wanted, and that frustrated me to know end.

What did I want?

Then, one day, a friend asked me a question that totally changed my life. She said, “What would you do with your life if you could do anything—if you didn’t have to think about what would make other people happy, or about paying your bills or about fitting in with your particular group of friends?”

At first her question frustrated me. It seemed selfish and wrong to answer a question like that. Who really got to live their life without considering what others would think? Who was able to really quit thinking about money?

Nobody, right?

But in many ways, my life started at that moment.

It wasn’t until I allowed myself to answer this question that I found peace and clarity I was longing for.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what it is that keeps us from admitting, owning, knowing or chasing what we really want—what it was that kept me from engaging that question. And if I look deep enough into my own heart, I realize there are three things that were keeping me from answering this question in an honest way.

First, we think it’s selfish to want stuff.

This was something that kept coming up in my spirit over and over again, and every time I ask people the “what would you do if you could do anything” question, I get a similar response. People say, “Before I do anything, I just want to make sure my motives are pure.”

The problem is, what I discovered when I finally allowed myself to want something was  admitting my desire was the first step to purifying my motives.

As I moved toward a life of meaning, by listening to what I desired, my motives were naturally refined.

It’s not selfish to want stuff. In fact, one of the most selfless things we can do is to dream. Not only is dreaming humbling, dreaming changes us, and changes those around us. Our dreams might not change the whole world, but they will change the part of the world we live in.

Second, we’re waiting on God to tell us what we should want.

Before I quit my full-time job, I would have told you I was “waiting on God” to show me what to do with my life; and I talk to dozens (if not hundreds) of people who say the same thing. I wrote a whole post about why I think this is the wrong approach, but the main idea is this:

What if, while we’re busy “waiting on God,” He’s busy waiting on us?

What if he’s asking, “Okay, so what do you want to do with your life?”

Finally, we’re afraid we don’t have what it takes to get what we want

A huge part of why I was afraid to admit what I wanted was because I was scared I would never get it. I really wanted to be a full-time writer but I didn’t know many full-time writers, and for some reason I just assumed it was a profession for a few elite or lucky people who happened to be able to achieve that type of success.

For me, I figured, I should just stick with what I knew could work.

What I didn’t realize was that most people (I might even venture to say all people) who get what they truly want in life get it not because of extraordinary luck or in-born talent, but because they are willing to admit what they want, willing to go without it for a time, and willing to work their butts off to achieve it.

At some point, I just realized: wouldn’t it be better to admit what I truly wanted, even if I never got it?

Wouldn’t that be more satisfying than going the rest of my life without being honest about myself?


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Allison Fallon

I write books. I help people write books. I believe a regular practice of writing can change your life.

9 thoughts on “Three Reasons You Don’t Know What You Want”

  1. Allison, Allison, Allison,

    Once again you speak directly to where I struggle.

    I declare today, I am willing to admit what I want, willing to go without it for a time, and willing to work my butt off to achieve it.

    I keep getting distracted by my messy basement. ( I think I need to re-read, “packing light.”)

    All the best,

  2. Hi Allison ! I was so blessed by your post this morning. It has spoken to me greatly because I had never asked myself what I want nor tell God about it.
    I have been living without what I want for a long time now so I believe is time to discover it. Not waiting for opportunities to come along but working to get them.

    Thank you!

  3. “For me, I figured, I should just stick with what I knew could work.” This is sooo me! Practical, careful, do-the-thing-right-in-front-of-me. . . I have an inkling of an answer to the “what would you do if. . .” question, but as you mentioned, I’m afraid to really believe that I could pursue that and be successful.

    Thank you for the encouragement to admit, pursue and work at it!

  4. This speaks directly to the idea that to want something specific is wrong. By being clear about your wants and needs, but at the same time respectful of the same in others, you will go far.

    For years I made the mistake of thinking that if I capitulated to others’ needs they would do the same for me. The problem was that none of them (including my wife) ended up being mind readers. As a highly perceptive person who can see the unstated needs of others, I foolishly waited around for others to see the same in me.

    Had I not learned to be clear (but reasonable) about what was important to me, I’d still be waiting for everyone in my life to accurately guess. I don’t have to wait any more.

  5. “Tom, you need to decide what you want to do in life before you are drooling over the side of a wheelchair.” Thus an associate perhaps two decades ago inspired me to actually make my ‘bucket list’. By then I had gotten past the ‘waiting on the Lord’ stage to a theology that said God is not interested in servants but in children who are busy doing what they enjoy…and that gives Him joy too! (my list had only three things…a sports car, a sailboat, and writing a book).
    Since I have gotten to the point where I believe we are not just saved by grace but also walk each day be God’s grace, the whole experience of life has become much more enjoyable. Its OK to want things or experiences!

  6. You’ve hit the nail right in the head once again. This article resonates with me, specifically during this stage of my life. I feel myself waiting on God, but you posed the all-important question: What if He is waiting on ME? Food for thought.. Thanks!

  7. Dear Allison,
    Thank you so much for putting into words things I often think about in life but have a difficult time expressing or conveying. Your words are lovely to read even if they make me uncomfortable at times. I am figuring out that there is so much about myself that I know and still do not know at the same time.

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