What Do You Want?
No, not what everyone else wants. What YOU want.
Three years ago, I thought I knew what I wanted. I’d visited Washington, D.C. four summers in a row and learned about the exciting careers there for young people who love agriculture. I saw the robust social life, the deep meaning ingrained in the history of the area, and the prestige of those who lived there. I want to start my career here, I thought to myself.
Yet, here I am now, living in the county I grew up in, working with ag retailers and farmers, and I love it. I have no desire to work on policy in D.C. anymore. What happened?
Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. You thought you knew what you wanted, whether it was a career vision or a dream school or even a dream relationship, yet somewhere along the way it hit you: you didn’t actually want it. You thought you did, but now you know better. Why does this happen to us so often?
My desire to go to D.C., I have learned, was rooted in one thing above all else: it’s where many people who did what I did in high school and college and have the background I do go. It’s where everyone else looks at you and says, “they’ve made it, look how successful they are.” It was all about what others were doing and what others wanted, not what I wanted. You see, we as humans are actually pretty bad at knowing what we want. It sounds wrong at first, but here’s the deal: it’s hard to put in the work to know what we truly value, so we tend to shortcut. The easiest way to find something to value? Look around at what other people want. Think about it—when you buy a new pair of shoes, is it because you looked at those shoes and decided you like them? Or, did you see other people you want to be accepted by wearing them first? (Looking at myself and my first pair of Hey Dude shoes here.)
But, it doesn’t stop at shoes. We do this in bigger matters, too. We look at the colleges the popular kids go to, and we start applying there. We look at the jobs the outwardly successful college seniors are applying to, and we scramble to get an interview. We look at the timeline others follow for getting promoted, getting married, starting a family, and all of a sudden we think we want the same. Until we get there, and we realize we don’t actually want to be there.
How do we stop pursuing what others want and start living our own life? It starts with recognizing our tendency to follow the crowd. From there, a few thoughts to get you rolling:
1) Take time to really learn what your values are.
Often we follow others because we don’t have a strong foundation of what we value. We may pursue a career that leaves no time for family before we’ve stopped to realize raising a family is actually deeply important to us, or maybe we apply to a large, prestigious school without noticing it actually won’t satisfy our real desires for our time in college. To avoid making decisions without thought to your values, make value pursuit a regular part of your life. Reflect on when you’ve felt most fulfilled in the past, and look at what led you to that fulfillment. Spend time in conversation with people who know you well, and if you have a significant other, speak often of your vision for your future. This doesn’t mean you need to map out every moment of your life; instead, it’s giving yourself a compass for the journey.
2) If you find yourself pursuing something popular, take an extra pause.
This does not mean it’s always bad to do what others are doing. It does mean we’re more likely to be falling into the trap of not actually doing what we want. So, to remedy this, take some extra time to evaluate how the decision lines up with your values and compass for your future. It’s absolutely okay to do what many other people do, but that must never be the reason for doing it.
At the beginning of this summer, I made a spontaneous trip to Washington, D.C. to visit some dear friends. It was a sweet weekend, and I’m grateful for the time with people I love. I’m also grateful for the trip because it was the final closure, if you will, for me to know I didn’t belong there for a career. I’d already made the decision to pursue a different path, but now and then I’d wonder if maybe I did actually want to take the policy road. Yet, after that weekend, I knew my LaSalle County crop protection job was where I was meant to be. I am so glad for the people who spoke into my life in the last three years to help me see what I truly wanted, not what I thought I wanted.
We’re all human, and we all know it’s hard to make our own path when there’s an easy road already. But the easy road doesn’t promise joy and purpose and fulfillment. When it comes down to it, we each have a purpose, and it’s unique to us, and it’s one we can’t fulfill when we’re too busy following everyone else.
Journal Prompt of the Week
What’s been on your heart lately to pursue? After reading this, is it something you truly desire?