Not Wanting What You Want

After all, desire can lead to disruption.

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My friend L and I caught up last week. Her nanny had left to tend to family matters, and L hadn’t hired a new one yet. “What surprises me is not how much I’m enjoying spending time with my kids, but how much I want to be at home with them. I’ve always loved working – I never thought I would want that.”

Not wanting what you want is both universal and universally dreaded. Ask anyone who has put in four years of med school only to realize that what they really want is to paint, or anyone who has packed up their lives to move to the city and realized that what they really want is the quiet of the burbs, or anyone who has fallen in love with someone unavailable, or fallen in love while they were unavailable (or both). It’s torture.

Because part of knowing who we are is knowing what we want, and when you realize that what you want is something that you wish you didn’t, you are left with one of two choices. You can suppress what you want and keep doing what you are already doing. Or you can give up all that you have invested in up to this moment, and go after what you now want.

The stuff of movies. But more complicated in real life.

Then there’s a third option: sitting in the desire and yearning of what you want, without changing a thing. Not because you can’t or you won’t but to feel the underlying truth of what you really want.

This is where practicality, or your inner critic, will jump to attention, defending the status quo for fear of its harmful effects. “Don’t even think about it! That’s not who you are! You’ve worked to hard for this! You’re too old for this!” It’s a legitimate attempt to block your yearnings.


But it can also lead to vulnerability, humility, softness, self-compassion,and delight in knowing that no matter how old, or experienced, or set you are — a part of you continues to want, whether you want it or not.

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