What We Want

Once, when I was about 18, I went shopping with a friend. I brought home an outfit that my mother, who has an unerring eye for what suits me, thought I should return. Instead, I dug in my heels and hung it in my closet. There was something about that outfit that had appealed to me in the store, although admittedly (aren’t mothers always right?) it wasn’t a good choice. Something about that outfit had ignited my imagination and impelled me to buy it, ignoring the fact that neither the style nor the colors were right for me. It hung at the back of my closet for the next few years, worn perhaps once or twice, a sad testament to wishful thinking and human frailty.

What does want feel like?

We all know what we think we want. My pantry is full of ingredients I bought for complicated cakes that I never got around to baking. My house is full of exercise gadgets that haven’t seen much use, games un-played, books scarcely opened, exotic vitamins untaken, sewing projects unfinished… the list is endless. So many things end up gathering dust when, at the time, it seemed abundantly obvious that this was exactly what was needed to make life perfect!

We want something. If we want it badly enough, we convince ourselves that we need it. The results of our good intentions end up cluttering our basements and storage sheds because, in the ongoing quest for happiness, it turns out that none of those things were what we really wanted.

What does want feel like?

We think it’s about the pictures in our heads, the ones that dazzle us with all the possible futures we’d like to embrace. The exercise equipment that will leave us looking and feeling just the way we’d love to imagine ourselves looking and feeling. That window treatment that we fully intend to sew… one day. Ditto the sweater we’re going to knit, or the blanket we expect to get around to crocheting… someday. Seeing the display in the store, we really, truly believe that this is what we want. We think it will fill a certain gap in our lives, or assuage a certain need.

But if we never quite get around to using it, what does that say about our real needs?

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Here’s a foolproof way of getting to know what makes another person tick: see what animates her.

You’ve all had the experience, I’m sure. You’re talking to someone, and your conversational partner is very low-key, almost bored. Suddenly, a new topic is raised, and she wakes up! Her voice becomes lively and interested. She uses her hands to emphasize a point. She shows very clearly that this topic means something to her. It makes her come alive.

Seeing what animates a person provides a glimpse into what’s important to him. Is he apathetic when it comes to discussing current events, but comes alive at a good Torah vort, or, sadly, does the opposite hold true? She may be all yawns when the topic of conversation is cooking, but wakes up when a fashion trend is mentioned. Or she may yawn through both of those but become visibly affected by a good hashgocha protis story.

There’s nothing as revealing as an individual’s reaction to something that strikes a chord. That’s when you get to see what that person really holds dear. It shows you what they really want in life.

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What does want feel like?

When it comes to trivial things like crafts projects or exercise, we can be forgiven for letting our imaginations run free. After all, what do we have to lose except a little money and space? It’s in life’s larger arenas that not being in touch with what we really want can be troublesome, and even dangerous.

Take marriage, for instance. As we go through the shidduch process, sifting through resumes and embarking on meetings with various prospects, it is vital to understand not only what we want, but who we are that makes us want it.

A girl may have a picture in her mind of the perfect husband, but he may not be perfect for her. She thinks she knows exactly what she wants, based on a fantasy of marriage, and perhaps also a less-than-realistic view of herself. She may invest herself with qualities she’d like to have and mentally match them up with a young man with complementary qualities. The problem with such a scenario is that a lack of self-awareness can lead to the pursuit of the wrong goal, a mismatch, sometimes r”l with devastating consequences.

Career choice is another area where self-knowledge is paramount. Certain professions are more glamorous than others in terms of status, money, or both. But pursuing a job that does not suit your temperament or abilities is a recipe for unhappiness at best, and disaster at worst. We may think we want something because it’s right for us, when we really just want it because something about it appeals to our imaginations, something that may have little or nothing to do with our innate needs or potential.

Similarly, trying to raise children by following a model that doesn’t fit us can backfire. Suppose you’re a stay-at-home type who loves nothing more than reading storybooks to your youngsters or puttering around the kitchen producing cookies and other kid-friendly treats. You’re a warm, empathetic person, but not particularly practical or organized. You hear about someone who takes her kids on amazing trips and educational outings, and you decide that this is for you. This is the model of motherhood you yearn to embrace.

So you embark on a series of outings with your offspring, which, through poor planning and other factors connected to your personality or those of your children, fall flat, or worse, lead to tension and conflict. What, you wonder, was your mistake? Why can Mrs. So-and-So do it while you failed miserably?

The answer lies in pushing aside the glittery images that beckon us to follow and imitate, and living instead with the reality of who and what we are and what, deep down, we really want.

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What does want feel like?

Sometimes it takes a heart-to-heart talk with a friend, or a very good davening, or listening to an inspiring shiur to realize that the external trappings of “want” have little to do with the innermost yearnings of the neshomah. Deep down, in a place where truth cannot be circumvented or denied, you know who you are. You know what you really want, what makes you come alive, or what you truly wish could make you come alive. You know what your real goals are for the lifespan that Hashem has given you.

Let’s ignore the blandishments of our misleading imaginations and get in touch with that pinpoint of truth inside. May each of us see success in achieving what we truly want in life!