“I discovered at an early age that all I’ve ever wanted to do is design”
Jonathan Ive in his New Year Honours press release
(Image by David Blackwell)
It makes me want to puke.
On reading this you will have had one of two reactions – you’ll either have nodded along because you, too, have always known what you wanted to do and discovered it early.
Or it edged you closer to despair because finding your passion is like playing hunt-the-thimble in a game rigged by a particularly perverse game master.
Guess what? Yet another post from a celebrity who effortlessly discovered their passion and went on to pursue it with great success. You could be forgiven for wondering whether you missed out on the ‘passion-finding gene’. And you’re not alone.
All the evidence shows that people who know what they want are more likely to get what they want. After all, if you don’t know what you want, you will end up working for someone who does. Without your own agenda you will spend the best part of your youth and energy delivering someone else’s agenda.
What also seems true is people who do manage to know what they want possess a kind of ‘inner compass’ allowing them to make decisions and change their circumstances to move nearer to it.
Why then is it so rare?
There are myriad goal-setting books on the market and an equal number of goal-setting systems, each with its own fans. Much of this ignores the plain truth – most people, when you ask them, don’t know what they want. Goals, beyond a daily to-do list, are a hazy concept for most. An even greater mass of people have not made it as far as using an effective to-do list.
For all the talk of outcome orientation there is very little of it out there. We are drowning in advice and yet, aside from a tiny minority, most people don’t set goals and this year will pass pretty much like last year.
I have always found this fascinating. There appears to be a complete disconnection between the standard self-help, personal improvement, creativity mantra (I call it ‘Knowing and Going’) and the daily reality of working with clients who remain not only clueless but stuck because they are unable to work it out.
Test it for yourself. Next time you start a meeting try asking people why they are there and what they want to walk away with? Watch as they duck and run for cover. Hard to believe I know, but most folk who trundle along to meetings do not know why they are there and cannot say what they want to leave with.
If something is not yet done it comes down to one of two problems:
- Either you know what you want but don’t know how to get it
- Or, you don’t know what you want
It’s people with the first problem who are writing and reading all those articles and books on success and change. They more or less know what they want but need a tool, technique or advice to help them get it. These folk seem unaware they are part of a very small group. They also assume the second problem is easy – you just think of it and then go for it. You know and go.
This is all fine, until you begin talking to people with the second problem. That’s when you find it’s a real problem and for many it strangles change at birth. There is almost nothing out there to help these folk.
Unfortunately the people writing all those self-help/productivity/creativity blogs don’t understand this. They assume all you have to do is ‘work out what you want’ or ‘know what you want’ and you can skip to the next step in their pet system. But what if you don’t? What if you can’t get past step one because nothing you think of seems to ignite your passion?
Is any of this familiar?
- You know what you don’t want but struggle to be clear about what you do want.
- You could do almost anything but you end up doing almost nothing because you lack the certainty to pick something.
- You don’t like where you are but can’t figure out where you should be.
- You know you are holding yourself back but you are not sure from what.
- You have let others make the bigger decisions about your life; you suspect you might be coasting.
- You carry around a vague but pressing feeling there is something else for you, if only you could know what it is.
- When asked what you want, your mind goes blank or your heart starts racing. It scares you.
- You’re facing a big decision and you don’t know what to do, or you have a feeling you might know but are afraid of the answer.
- You’re scared of making the changes you know you could be making.
- Somehow, you know your life would be different if only you could work out what you wanted.
Congratulations, you have the second problem – you can’t ‘go’ because you don’t ‘know’.
I’ve spent years helping clients get past this and collecting tools to help with just the first step – working out what you really want. Last year, I put the best of them into a book, First, Know What You Want – Why Goals Don’t Work and How to Make Them. Inside you’ll find twelve practical experiments in finding your ‘inner compass’, whether you’re the analytical type or more intuitive. And some bonus tips on using these techniques with others.
Here are a couple to get you started:
1. Start with What You DON’T Want
Unless you are a highly motivated, goal-seeking machine who uses positive language all the time, the chances are you spend at least some of the time thinking about things you don’t like and don’t want. Some of us are really good at this, so good that when someone asks What do you want? it takes us by surprise and we get a bit flustered.
Make it easy for yourself and start where you are – with what you don’t want. Pick something right now that you don’t want in your job, career, future, art, or relationship. Got something? Now ask What do I want, instead?
What you want is not always the opposite of what you don’t want:
I don’t want to breathe recycled air all day.
What do you want instead?
I’ve always wanted to work near the sea or I’d like to be hotter during the day or whatever that little ‘instead’ unlocks for you.
If What do you want? is the most powerful question you can ask, What do you want, instead? is probably the second most powerful question.
First you go with your natural focus – the moan, the irritation, the thing you don’t like. Then ask yourself What do I want [pause] instead? To answer you will have to glance in some other direction, searching around until you find an alternative.
2. Stop Thinking and Come to Your Senses
Instead of using your head to tease out what you want, why not ask your senses? They have a pretty good idea of what pleases them, but they talk slowly, like your uncle who takes forever to get to the point.
Often we numb or ignore our senses because we are moving through our lives too fast and it is annoying to have to slow down and pay attention to them. It is a bit like taking a toddler for a walk. The little one keeps wanting to go in different directions and stopping to investigate interesting things.
Hurry up, hurry up you cry to your senses, pulling on the leash. It’s no wonder they stop talking to you after a while. In your senses lie some powerful clues about what you want.
Mike came to see me facing a job change and uncertain about what he wanted next. After getting nowhere for a while I asked him what his favourite smell was. He thought for a moment. “It’s my daughter’s hair, just after she has had a bath and is having a bedtime drink.”
When I asked him how often he got to enjoy that smell and how he could enjoy it more, he began to well up. “I’ve been so busy with work in the last few months I can’t remember the last time.”
What’s your favourite smell? was enough to help Mike get to the heart of what he wanted from work and family. Could your senses help you gain some clarity too?
What do you enjoy looking at?
What would you love to hear more of?
What do you like to touch (or be touched by)?
What do you love to taste?
And your favourite smell? Could it contain a clue about what you want?
We have somehow confused adulthood with having less physical pleasure in our working day but it’s totally OK to devise a life that pleasures your senses (in case you were wondering).
If nothing else is working why not stop thinking and come to your senses?
What Else Do You Want to Know about Goal-Setting?
With Mark’s permission I’ll come back and share some other tips for knowing what you want. Let me know in the comments whether you want to hear more.
If you have discovered what you really wanted, what was the secret, the trigger point for you? Please share.
If you are yet to find your inner compass, let me know whether some tips would be helpful.
About the Author: Andrew Halfacre is a coach with years of experience helping people discover what they really want. Visit FirstKnowWhatYouWant.com to download your free ‘First Know Journal’, a 40-page PDF of all the exercises from the book. And get the book as well on Amazon: First, Know What You Want.Tweet