It’s at once the simplest and the hardest question you can ask someone: What do you want? On the surface, it seems easy. We all know what we want, right? At least we feel we do. But when asked to articulate those wants, few of us can be clear and specific about our goals, our dreams and our desires. But if you can’t be specific and clear about what you want, how do you know if you’re doing what you need to do to get it? The answer is, you can’t.
Being able to clearly, specifically and definitively articulate what you want out of life is the first step to achieving those desires. Without that, everything else you do is simply hit or miss, trial and error. Sure, you could actually end up getting some or even all of the things you want. But if you do, it will almost certainly be a matter of pure luck and serendipity, an accomplishment that is neither repeatable nor predictable.
Give yourself the best chance you have to get what you want out of life by asking yourself the following simple questions:
“What does what I want look like in action?”
Having a clear picture of what you want allows you to focus your energy specifically on those activities that will get you closer to your goals, and avoid wasting resources on those that won’t. Use visualization to literally see yourself in your ideal life. Look around this ideal world and see what’s around you – the work you’re doing, the people you’re with, the house you’re in, the way you’re acting and so on. Get very specific. Write down what you’re eating, doing, thinking, saying and feeling in this ideal life. Look at the gaps between what you want and where you are now for insight into where changes can be made.
“Why do I want this?”
Once you know specifically what you want, ask yourself why you want it in the first place. Do you want a job as a high-powered attorney because of the money, or the political power? The ability to shape the legal environment, or to help others? It’s important to know the “why” of your wants so that if, for example, you fail law school or are otherwise blocked from your primary goals, you can find other means to achieve the same ends.
This “why,” by the way, is actually your core want. The “what” (being a high-powered lawyer) is simply the way you’ve chosen to get that want (changing the legal environment). It’s very important not to confuse these two, or you may find yourself thinking you’ve gotten what you want (a career in law) without actually doing so (winding up in a specialty that has no influence on the legal environment).
“How do I want to get it?”
Sure, you could cheat your way through law school, pay someone to take the bar exam for you and blackmail your way into a prestigious firm. But is that really who you want to be or the way you want to conduct yourself? Being clear on your own boundaries, values, ethics and personal feelings about what you are and aren’t willing to do to get what you want is just as important as know what you want, and why, in the first place.
This is also the time to consider potential limiting or guiding factors like your preference for living in a certain region of the country, a desire to travel, a critical weakness, a disability, a need for any career or lifestyle choice to include a spiritual aspect and so on. These factors don’t have to prevent you from getting what you want, but they may introduce special challenges or requirements that will need to be addressed.
“What will I need to do to get what I want?”
If you want to be a marine biologist who studies coral reefs in their natural habitat, you’ll need to learn to swim, dive and acquire a specific educational background. Additionally, you’ll need to live and work in regions that support coral reefs at least some of the time. If these requirements aren’t met (you take literature instead of biology, you can’t swim, you hate the living in warm climates), then all the wishing in the world won’t get you closer to your goal.
From these top-level requirements, you can then “plan backwards” to where you are now and create a strategy for getting what you want. This is an important step. While you may be presented with opportunities and options that can alter, shorten or eliminate the need for the original plan, without at least a starting point you could waste a lot time, money and energy chasing down rabbit holes that don’t get you any closer to doing the things you love.
“How will I know if I’ve succeeded?”
Knowing what you want is one thing. Knowing when you’ve achieved it is something else altogether. People sometimes drive themselves crazy trying to get something they already have, but can’t see because of they don’t recognize it. Without some tangible way to measure success you could overshoot your mark, pass up opportunities and even destroy your chances of getting the very thing you desire.
One final tip: After you’ve asked and answered these questions, one of the best ways to start moving forward on getting what you want is through accountability and support. Whether you simply enlist the help of a friend or family member, or use an established support group or an online service like 43 Things (http://www.43things.com/), nothing will help you succeed like having a cheering section behind you and accountable milestones in front of you. The former will keep you going when times get rough, and the latter will prevent you from going off track or slacking off. Together, they create the motivation and inspiration you need to achieve the success you dream about.