Photo by Hannes Caspar
By Kate Swoboda
“We are not meant to be perfect;
we are meant to be whole.”
It’s the crisis of the modern era: stressed-out, disconnected, working so hard and not knowing what, exactly, we’re working for. Entire lives are planned around promotions and pay raises, or around simply surviving the day-to-day, and then we look around and ask ourselves: Is all this work actually getting me where I want to go?
I’ve found myself in this position–the position of the person who has figured out how to work hard and achieve things, but has realized with a sudden and startling clarity that she doesn’t actually know that they are things she wanted.
What do you do when you’ve pursued the things you’ve been conditioned to want, and find that once you’ve got them–they weren’t what you really wanted?
Perhaps what you’ve sought was some outward measure of perfection, and now the journey is towards wholeness.
Where do you start figuring out what it is that you truly desire?
Answer: you start looking in some unexpected places.
1. Jealousy is Telling
Jealousy is so often viewed as a negative, petty emotion–and sure, on some level, it can be. But what if, instead of rejecting it, you embraced it and then asked yourself what it was there to tell you?
Jealousy shows me where I want something, but I’m afraid to claim it. For instance: I have never been jealous of a doctor. Not a single cell in my body wants to, well, be messing around with anyone else’s cells. I don’t care that M.D.s make a lot of money or have a lot of social clout. I’m thrilled that doctors are there when I need them, and I have zero desire to join them–that’s someone else’s dream.
By contrast: I’m jealous when I hear that anyone has got a book deal. I want it. It’s on the life list. I’m jealous of the woman wearing a hot pair of shoes that I’ve passed up, trying to be “practical” (note to self: release the practicality; wear the fun shoes). I’m jealous when someone gets back from a workshop and has had a breakthrough experience in exactly the places where I struggle.
In essence, I’m only ever jealous in the places where I desire something–jealousy is a powerful indicator of desire. It’s not always petty–certainly, I don’t wish for someone else to have had a lesser experience–so much as I want to share in it.
Use your jealousy to point you towards what you desire.
2. Shadowing Your Friends
Who do you associate yourself with, and why? Who are you gravitating towards, and how do you feel when you hear about their lives? If you hear about a friend who does something they’ve longed for–whether that’s find Mr. Right (or break up with Mr. Wrong), going on a meditation retreat, or deciding to pursue a creative passion–and you notice that a part of you feels carried along for their journey, like a willing participant. That’s alignment.
In those moments, what others are doing is aligning with something that you desire for yourself. What that is, exactly, might not be obvious. Perhaps your friend letting go of Mr. Wrong will translate, for you, to a desire to speak up about the places in your life where you wish to be more honest.
Regardless, noticing who you choose to surround yourself with–and why you choose those particular people–can indicate to you where your own values lie.
3. Examining the Uncomfortable
What feels ill-fitting and uncomfortable in your life, like a shirt that’s a bit too small, the armpit creases rubbing armpits every time you move?
For example, if I see that it continually bugs me that a friend is late, I’m probably desiring more accountability in my life (and rather than putting it on the friend, I can put it on myself and look for the ways that I’m not accountable, or the ways in which I lie and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when someone else isn’t accountable).
Persistent discomfort isn’t just a sign that something isn’t working for you–it’s a sign that points you exactly towards what could work well. Look to whatever is the opposite of the irritation, and then ask yourself how you can get more of that positive opposition into your life.
4. Getting Curious About the “No Way!” Response
Perhaps you hear about a friend who decides to run a marathon. “No way could I do that!” you think. Maybe you come across a brochure for a 10-day silent meditation retreat. “No way could I do that!”–and you put the brochure away.
Perhaps you’re reading a magazine in a doctor’s office and someone is describing how they took an acting class or speaking course, and you find yourself cringing at the thought of getting up in front of all of those people.
In this case, the “No way!” response is not of the “that holds zero interest for me” variety. Instead, this “No way!” response is the response of intimidation mixed with admiration. There’s something intriguing about the idea that anyone would do this crazy thing that you’ve just heard or read about, and you can’t imagine yourself doing it, but it’s still sort of interesting.
In cases like these, follow the energy. That “No way!” response carries a lot of juice. Aren’t you even just a little bit curious about why you’d have such a strong reaction to the idea?
Like jealousy, the “No way!” response can carry indicators of significant, yet hidden, desires.
5. Take No Action
In the self-help industry, there can be so many exhortations to “take action” and “clarify!” and “focus!” that someone can find themselves bouncing around between personality tests to values clarification exercises to workshops to uncover hidden blocks to…well, you get the picture.
One of the fastest ways to gain clarity, whether it’s for big-picture questions or small, nagging “What’s next?” fears is to take no action.
Yes–stop doing anything, at all, for a period of a week or more.
Particularly if you know that you’re in the thick of it and that things are feeling foggy and unclear, it’s important to find a few days with no work, no obligations, no nothing except for you to simply “be.”
Note: this might be an area where you immediately have a “No way!” response, followed by a litany of reasons for why that could never happen in your life (time, work, money, kids, etc.) Notice that this might be an indicator of your truest desires.
When we stop doing anything, we open up space to listen more deeply. It never fails to amaze me how quickly clarity can come when I simply take a step back from everything, altogether.
The truth is, when it comes to clarifying what you truly want, there is no 1-2-3 step plan that can be applied to the masses.
Clarifying what you truly want comes differently for each person. The approach of examining our rough edges in order to clarify our desires might seem contrarian, but paradoxically, it can lead to some surprising new avenues.
Put this into action: consider that you needn’t apply any of these processes to the larger “What am I doing with my life?” question. You could simply think of something smaller, like a conflict at work, fear over paying the bills, or trying to figure out what to do next in your business, and see how applying any of these approaches brings you closer to clarity.
About the Author:
Kate Swoboda is a life coach, speaker and writer who specializes in courage. You can learn more about her at YourCourageousLife.com, where she writes about courageous living, integrity, and ferocious love. Life Coaches can check out her resources for business and leveraging your practice over at YourCourageousBlueprint.com
Related Articles on Desire:
- Finding Beauty in the Imperfections
- Embracing the Imperfect
- Life on Purpose: 15 Questions to Discover Your Personal Mission
- Dream to Reality: How I Quit My Day Job
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