What Do You Really Want?
Last week I found myself hanging out with a group of women, some of whom I knew really well and some of whom I only met that day. Annika, someone new to the circle, was talking about celebrating her birthday last month. Her husband had asked her what she wanted for a birthday gift. She told us she asked to have the backyard cleaned up.
The more she told us, the more I saw that the ability to know what you want and then asking for it can be challenging and even confusing for some women. Annika’s birthday gift played itself out this way: she hired someone to clean the yard; she waited at home for him to arrive; and she stayed around while he did the work. The more she shared, the more I wondered where the gift was!
Pressing her for a little more information, her husband’s birthday presents were either electronic doo-dads or golf gear, gifts that you would consider personal, i.e., for the person!
While I understand the value of beautifying the backyard, does it count as a present?
Oops – It’s Me Too!
A couple of weeks after that, my husband decided he wanted to trade in the two-year old motorcycle for the newest model. I was a little shocked because we had been discussing some of the things we need for the house, and a motorcycle wasn’t on the list. Long story short, in the end he bought a new motorcycle, which prompted me to challenge him with the question, “What are we getting for me?” When he asked me what I wanted, I said, we need a new dishwasher.
IMMEDIATELY I stepped back and saw that this was not any different from Annika’s asking to have the backyard cleaned up for her birthday present.
Is my biggest desire a new dishwasher? Granted, the dishwasher we have now has one working cycle, the tines are rusted and breaking off, and it leaks so badly we have to make sure there are towels underneath so the floor doesn’t get soaked…
All the same, there are way too many similarities to Annika’s backyard: I’ll have to do the research, figure out when the sales are on, visit two or three appliance stores, purchase it, and be here for the delivery! That’s what I want as a present? Just because I like to have a clean kitchen doesn’t make a dishwasher my equivalent of a motorcycle!
What Is A Gift?
The question up for review is: What is a gift? And just as importantly, why do some people, women in particular, feel uncomfortable and even ashamed asking for what they want?
A gift reflects what is special and unique about someone. It recognizes what’s special about that person, what’s meaningful to them. While a cleaned up backyard and a dishwasher that doesn’t leak is meaningful in a functional way, in the way that my parents would give us kids underwear and pajamas for birthday presents, it’s impersonal – it doesn’t speak to your authenticity or passion.
When you are able to say what you truly want, whether it is for your birthday gift, what you feel like eating for dinner, or the movie you want to see, you are acknowledging your own passions, desires and uniqueness. Why is it so difficult?
The Capacity to Receive
Why is it so difficult for some of us to say, simply and clearly, without any hedging or excuses, what we want? Usually it’s the beliefs we acquired early in life and reinforced by our experiences that keep telling us:
- Wanting is selfish.
- Be polite and let other people go first.
- You are asking for way too much.
- If you get what you want, someone else will not get what he or she needs.
If these statements are part of your inner dialog, then asking for – or even wanting something – can make you anxious enough to not ask for anything for yourself.
I was taught that my needs and wants were secondary to those of my parents, that wanting or needing too much was selfish, and that to be lovable meant to engage in an unhealthy pattern of self-denial. If you have anything like that in your upbringing, then the process of knowing what you want and asking for it requires a lot of unlearning followed by learning new, healthier behaviors in order to make authentic choices.
Sometimes ignoring our true needs and wants gets conflated with wanting to be a better person: do we feel that good people minimize their needs and desires, maybe wanting to consume less and leave a smaller footprint on the ecosphere? What about deferring a personal desire in order to benefit the greater good? I struggle with these issues too.
These are important questions that require some introspection and examination of our core values. There is no right or wrong in how we choose to live. The critical word here is choose: if you don’t have a choice because your inner dialog, inherited beliefs and feelings of shame stop you from living authentically, then the focus needs to be on getting better acquainted with yourself. When you know who you are and make friends with yourself, you will easily know what you need to feel fulfilled and supported in your life and your work. When your home base is friendship with yourself, you will be free to ask for what you want and act from your authentic center and not from the confines of past conditioning that limit your choices.
To your success,
Follow Marsha Lichtenstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrMarshaTweets