Me: What do you wanna do?
Other Person: I dunno, what do you wanna do?
Me: I dunno, what do you wanna do?
(Continue until someone’s head explodes.)
This inane and unproductive dialogue marked much of my teenage years. I’m embarrassed to admit that more sophisticated versions persisted well into my adulthood.
Did I really not know what I wanted to do? Was the other person/BFF/date/boyfriend/partner truly just as lost and clueless?
The answer is no, and no.
I knew what I wanted to do. Of course I did. But I was worried that the other person would think my idea was stupid. Or, worse, that they would go along with what I wanted to do, but it would turn out to be boring or a disaster and then it would be my fault for suggesting it. It was safer, I concluded, to have no opinions or preferences, to simply drift along in my dull but protective little bubble of indecision, than to actually risk making a choice or taking a specific action. Apparently I had a lot of friends who felt the same.
Then I met my step-grandmother, Claire. Claire had about as much patience for indecision and waffling as Tang has real fruit juice. If she asked me what I wanted to do and I said I didn’t know, she’d simply find something for me to do, whether I liked it or not. Thus I toured the Chicago Stock Exchange (mildly interesting), the water maintenance facility (moderately tedious) and sat for hours in a courtroom while attorneys argued breach of contract over delayed delivery of some kind of industrial equipment (total snore).
I quickly developed the courage to voice preferences of my own.
Some clients tell me they don’t know what they want to do. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I rarely believe them, although I know they think they’re telling me the truth. On the surface of the conscious mind, they may indeed not know what they want to do. They’re on the fence about whether or not to stay in their marriage. They think they might hate their job, but they don’t know what they want to do instead. They want something to happen, but they can’t articulate what that might be.
Bullshit, I tell them. Bull. Shit. (I actually say this very nicely. You’d be surprised how charming profanity can be.)
Just as the seven-year-old me knew, deep down, that I wanted to play Barbies instead of Hungry Hungry Hippos, just as the teenage me knew I wanted to go dancing instead of to a football game, just as the adult me knew I didn’t want to live in a small town (but mysteriously bought a house in one anyway), people know what they want, even if they keep it secret from themselves.
So shhhh. Listen. Listen hard. Hear that little voice, the one you keep trying to drown out with have-tos and shoulds, the one you keep trying to smother with fear and what-will-people-think?
What, in your heart of hearts, do you really, truly want to do? What do you want to have happen next?
You know. And you and I both know you do.
So c’mon. Do you wanna keep messing around? Or do you wanna go for it? Tick tock, baby. Your whole life is out there, waiting for you to take the reins and live it. Are you in?