What Do You (Really) Want?

When my youngest was in kindergarten, he brought home a project they had been working on that week: a blue sheet of paper with a line down the middle and two columns titled Needs and Wants. Under ‘needs’ he had cut out pictures of water, food, coat and bed; under ‘wants’ were LEGO, books and candy. On the upper right hand corner a shiny sticker emphasized the words Good Job! written in red Sharpie.

I cringed.

It’s not that I don’t find value in teaching our children the difference between necessities and luxuries (though clearly not as much as my husband does, “one month in Africa will straighten them out!” he bellows following teenage tantrums called “it’s not fair!”), but I am familiar with the negative effects of years and years of separating needs from wants. Of mislabeling wants as selfish desire and needs as an end goal. Everything more than the need becomes an unnecessary luxury to feel grateful for and possibly guilty about.

Of course, there is wisdom in this - managing your expectations for what you want can bring about great appreciation for what you already have. But a repeated shutting down of your desires can bring about a different type of feeling - shame and guilt for wanting something you think you shouldn’t. Or an inability to tap into the desire that you have worked so hard to shut down.

That doesn't mean you need to have everything that is in your want column. But consider having the wanting: experiencing the yearning and learning from your desire. Consider desire itself as a need. It’s the part that drives you and makes you uniquely you.

Trying to squeeze your desire into what others want or what you wish you would want, is as ineffective as squeezing a balloon — it will simply show up somewhere else (or burst). In other words, your heart wants what your heart wants. That doesn’t mean you always have to get what you want, but if you listen to it often enough, you may find that what your heart wants most is the space to feel out that very thing that it (really) wants.