What do you want? It’s a question your server asks in a restaurant. A question we ask our loved ones about their birthdays. It is the question with a different tone, we ask when we are being interrupted for the umpteenth time. But also a question, we almost never ask ourselves, particularly as women. Many of us truly don’t know the answer. And that’s the tragedy because if you don’t know what you want, you are likely not to ask for it, get it or recognize it if you do get it.
I remember when I was 10 or 11, my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday. I asked for a banana seat bike. I wasn’t one to ask for things but my parents asked “What do you want?” All my friends had them and riding my bike was freedom to go and come as I pleased in suburban Maryland where I grew up. It seemed like the thing I should want. So that’s what I said. My parents bought the bike. My dad stayed up to the wee hours assembling it. In the morning, they presented it to me. I was an appreciative kid and so I smiled and said thank you when I saw it. I did not jump for joy. They got a pink one. I wanted a blue one. Actually, what I really wanted I don’t even remember. It wasn’t even a bike. But if I was going to get a bike, me the ingrate, wanted it to be the right color.
I learned very early to edit my desires. To set them at what others wanted. The problem with this approach is while you might fit in, you not only don’t get what you want, you may risk not enjoying what you do get.
One of the first things I ask new coaching clients or workshop participants to do is to make a list of 100 things they want to do or be or have. The first time I did this exercise I couldn’t think of 35 items. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of them. I couldn’t admit I wanted them. There were things I wanted but thought were silly like big hair. The ones I thought were selfish like annual trips to Hawaii and a Michael Kors briefcase. The ones I thought were impossible like world peace and an end to child poverty. The ones so small they didn’t deserve to be there like remembering to send a card for my niece’s birthday. I didn’t want to waste a slot or get the list wrong. So I went on judging and editing. And leaving things blank.
But I had missed the lesson of the list. I easily slipped into wondering, “Who am I to want these things?” And then into, “What’s my problem, why can’t I think of anything?” But none of that is the point. First, 100 is a lot of things to think of and leaves plenty of room for the silly, selfish, impossible and tiny wishes. Second, when you start doing all that judging and saying no, you shut down your imagination and brain for dreaming up what’s possible. Third, you also in advertently get into judging yourself and your worthiness. You start taking it and yourself seriously.
The list is a game. It is play. No one will judge it. It is a chance to think big. To dream. To make mistakes. To want it all. To learn what drives you most. Because if you can do that, you can decide what you really want most and celebrate the journey toward it.
So I hope you’ll grab a blue crayon or a purple marker or open a spreadsheet and start a list of your own. Let yourself ask for what you want. No one has to see the list but you. The truth is you already know the things you are tempted to leave off; I hope you don’t. I bet you find out you are more creative, more fun, more generous, and more wonderful than you thought.