The taboo against knowing what you want

If you’re anything like me, there are moments when you realize that there is something fundamentally flawed in the way you’re doing life. When I was young, my response to not getting the results I sought was to do all the same things but to do them harder, faster, and longer in hopes that the same approach that never worked would result in things falling into place.

I reached a point where I could no longer pretend that my way worked. Going into therapy as a client was a way for me to stop utilizing the same mindset that created my problems to try and solve them.  For the first time, instead of being trapped in my head trying to “figure it out”; I took an honest look at where I was at and where I was going. I started making changes at 30. It’s amazing that I made it that far without totally falling apart, but I’m grateful I arrived at a place where I finally took stock.

Most of us spend our 20’s trying to figure out who we are and what we want to be categorically (professionally, relationally, geographically, having children and other major life decisions). We do a lot of trial and error and we develop goals. Whatever we come up with for answers is usually how we spend our 30’s: Trying to attain and achieve and become.

Despite the absence of any actual discussion or instructions, there is a societal expectation that by 30 you’re supposed to know what you’re doing, (which is a problematic concept all by itself). The bigger problem is that once you know what you’re doing (or have learned how to adequately pretend like you do) it’s not really supposed to change in any meaningful way.

Of course, it is only chronological age that is linear, certainly not life itself.

If it works out, we’re likely to stay the course and pursue whatever our definition of success is. If it doesn’t work out, we choose (too often subconsciously) how to be ok with it/us not being ok. Some of us settle. Some of us distract ourselves with healthy or (more often) unhealthy pursuits. Many of us find ourselves drinking and drugging more. Maybe we take up hobbies. Maybe we have an affair.

We stick with the familiar and we muddle with little if any: input from others, support, or earnest introspection.

And all because we’ve been conditioned never to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing.

Two of the hardest questions I ask as a therapist are:

–          “What do you need?” and

–          “What do you want?”

It’s amazing how hard it is to answer those simple questions meaningfully.

Knowledge creates responsibility. If we know what we need and want, then we feel compelled to take action. To be unaware of these things at times is understandable, but at some point, not knowing becomes a choice. Denying our true selves absolves us of the responsibility to pursue our own goals, hopes, and dreams.

For most of us, it’s so much more comfortable and familiar to attend to the needs of others. Attending to ourselves evokes feelings of guilt. This is the plight of codependents and the resulting resentment tends to result in low level depression.

To those who struggle in these ways, I simply ask, “How would you see it if it were a loved one in your shoes?” Clarity follows: We urge our loved ones to take care of themselves. We must do no less for ourselves.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.