What are You Allowed to Want?

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What do you want? It seems like a simple question, but it’s one I’ve struggled to answer at times.

Exercises around describing my ideal day or envisioning my perfect scenario can leave me feeling more stuck than inspired. My mind goes blank when pressured to describe my 5-year vision. Trying to set goals can feel like a choice between more of the same or something that’s out of reach. 

Why do some of us struggle to know and name what we want?

  • We are in the habit of thinking more about what other people want than about what we want. We’re out of practice with discerning our own desires.

  • We see ourselves as someone who works in the background so others can have their dreams. We believe big dreams are reserved for those better than us.

  • We worry about others will think about what we want. We don’t want to seem selfish or ridiculous so we limit ourselves to wanting what looks practical and reasonable.

  • We fear what our desires might mean about us.

  • We’re afraid of being disappointed so we avoid wanting anything that isn’t a sure thing.

  • We make judgments about what we’re good enough to want. We think we can only want what we’ve earned or deserved.

For many of us, the question we’re really asking is:

What am I allowed to want?

We draw lines around what is ok to want and what isn’t. We fear that if we cross that line it means we’re selfish, greedy, arrogant, presumptuous, or threatening.

It’s only ok to want things that will benefit others. It’s only ok to want things others think I should want. It’s only ok to want things that don’t conflict with anyone else’s wants. It’s only ok to want the bare minimum.

There’s a card that has lived on my desk for the past year. It’s words I’ve been encouraged and challenged me:

You are allowed to want it all. You are allowed to want even more.

You’re allowed to want it all. You’re allowed to want even more.

Sometimes I still have a hard time believing this is true…and at the same time it feels like the permission I’ve been waiting for.

I want to remind myself and remind you: you are allowed to want…

…things that are just for you.

…things that could ripple out to change the world.

…things that seem out of reach.

…things you already have.

…things other people have.

…things others don’t understand.

…things you don’t understand.

…things you might not get.

…things that seem frivolous.

…things that feel weighty.

…things that feel presumptuous.

…an exciting life.

…a quiet life.

…something different from what you wanted yesterday.

…things that conflict with what others want.

…to feel however you want to feel.

Now just because you’re allowed to want it all doesn’t mean you have a right to take it by any means necessary. Wanting doesn’t make it ok to violate someone’s boundaries, make threats or demands, etc. (I know that you know that.)

But to want something isn’t inherently selfish. So many of our desires are beautiful—enriching our lives and the world.

Denying our desires or being afraid to identify them doesn’t make them any less real. It just keeps us from moving toward what’s true. Really looking at what we want in all its fullness and audacity gives us direction and clarity.

It’s ok if you’re out of practice. It’s ok if considering what you really, really want feels more confusing than exciting right now. Being reminded that you’re allowed to want won’t instantly make it easy to know what you want. Shifting a way of being or believing takes time and practice.

Even if you’re not sure what you want five years from now… Even if your big, audacious dreams are more than a little hazy… What do you want in this moment? Now take it a step further…where do you want a little more?

This week please join me in practicing noticing what we want. Let’s experiment with stretching just a little beyond what we think we’re allowed to want to acknowledge what we truly desire.