What do you want?  What do YOU want? What do you WANT?  

Wherever you put the emphasis, it’s a tough one.

For me, this has always been difficult because over time, I accumulated the baggage of other people’s expectations, internalized it, and carried it around. I visualize these layers of others’ expectations on me like layers of clothing. I was covered in T-shirts and sweaters and jackets and coats and scarves and hats and backpacks of other people’s expectations and assumptions to the point that I was physically, mentally, and emotionally weighed down by them.  

I was so weighed down that I could tell you what others wanted, how I was supposed to support them in their achievement of what they wanted, and what the consequences would be if I didn’t.  

I was so weighed down that I could tell you what I was supposed to want, what was “normal” to want, and what would be considered weird for me to want.  

I was so weighed down that I could tell you what was acceptable and appropriate to want, and what certainly was not. I could tell you which wants would signal to others that I was responsible, and which wants would signal that I was irresponsible and raise eyebrows.  

I had so many conversations going on in my head about what I was supposed to want, what I should want, what I shouldn’t want, what was ok to want, what was not ok to want, what others wanted for me, what others wanted for themselves, and what they wanted from me. I couldn’t even hear my own voice with all of those other voices spinning around in my head telling me what to want.

And just as you were reading this, several different images or ideas popped into your head—voices of other people perhaps—that filled in the blanks on what you’re supposed to want, what others want for you, and what is acceptable and appropriate (or unacceptable or inappropriate) to want. And you may not even know what you really want because you may have so many messages flying around your head too.

See? It really is a difficult question to answer because it requires you to peel back the layers of others’ expectations and get down to the core of what you really want.  The only way I know how to do this is to start with a worksheet and some brainstorming, so here’s one to get you started.  

Ask yourself these questions for all of the people who have been important to you in your life—parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends, not-so-close friends who influenced you, teachers, professors, coaches, aunties and uncles and cousins, religious leaders, colleagues, bosses, and others. For those people, ask yourself what they wanted FOR you, what they wanted FROM you, and WHY.

If you start thinking about this, you’ll probably uncover the source of some your ideas about what you’re supposed to want. You’ll realize that it’s not something that comes from inside of you but rather something that someone else has encouraged (or discouraged) you from wanting. You may discover that some of the things you’ve been pursuing in life aren’t really things that you want but things that others want for you or from you. You may realize that you’re doing a lot of those things out of guilt or obligation, and you may realize that you don’t have to anymore.

As you peel back the layers of others’ expectations, you create space to discover what you really want for yourself. You create space to understand where joy, growth, and learning come from for you. Your create space so that you can reorder your personal and professional lives in a way that is more consistent with what will be fulfilling for you.  

You then are able to ask yourself, “What Do You Want?”

And as you answer, my advice is to start by thinking about the stuff that really matters, like:

What brings you joy? What truly makes you happy in your heart? Maybe it’s skiing down a mountain and feeling the swoosh under your skis. Or maybe it’s singing a song or painting a blank canvas or playing with your kids or cooking a great meal for others. What exactly is it that brings you joy? 

What are the types of growth and experiences you want to have? Maybe it’s learning how to grow vegetables or learning a language or traveling or exploring the metaphysical or climbing a mountain. Maybe it’s creating deep connections with others or helping those in need. What experiences do you want to have?

What kinds of people do you want to do this with? I don’t recommend listing names of people but rather the qualities and characteristics of people you’d like to do this with. Are they adventurous, challenging, supportive, kind, quiet, loud, creative, scientific, funny, or something else? Focus on qualities of people then seek those people out!

By answering those questions, you’ll start to get a sense of what YOU want, without the layers of expectations of others. You’ll start to get a sense of what’s really important to you and of how you can define your own version of what living a great, successful life means to you. It’s where you can find your Gutsy and design your life around what is meaningful and important to you rather than doing what everybody else things you should do.

And you can finally have a great answer when someone asks, “What do you want?”