Don’t Know What I Want

Photo by Alex Bellink

“I don’t really know what I want. All I know is that I don’t want what I have right now.”

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who feel that way. In fact, I was one of them. I was overcome by the torment of feeling like I was simply marking time in an outwardly successful life, while dying a little inside every day. Other than feeling that what I did for a living wasn’t nearly personally meaningful enough, I had faint ideas of what I wanted to do instead. The lack of clarity was a major source of the torment I felt.

After getting a second lease in life from surviving a near-fatal car accident at the end of 2008, I knew I needed to make some life changes. It started with leaving my job at the time I had long since outgrown. Even though I didn’t know then where I would eventually land on my professional path, what I did know was what I didn’t want to recreate again, i.e., feeling over-worked, under-paid and under-appreciated. Pivoting to the opposite of these undesirable conditions was a good starting point to get clear on what I wanted in my professional life instead, i.e., having great work-life balance, being paid well and being appreciated for my contributions.

Having just that first slice of clarity enabled me to make the right career decision in November 2009, when I was finally physically and emotionally strong enough to leave my job. I chose self employment in an objectively bad economy over an offer to join another company as a vice president. Why? Because, even though that VP offer came with the promotion and salary increase I had wanted for a few years, I knew the job would also come with long hours and even bigger stress. These conditions simply did not line up with my new-found clarity around the work life I desired. I did go on to make more money and work a lot less than had I accepted that VP position, while feeling very appreciated in my own consulting practice.

Pivot from what you hate to what you love

As my story above shows, knowing what you don’t want is tremendously helpful to gaining clarity on your dreams and desires. By pivoting from the undesirable conditions to the opposite, it’s a great starting place to take the right action toward what would ultimately bring you more joy, passion and fulfillment. You don’t need to know down to the last detail what you want in order to take meaningful action. Just knowing what conditions you’d like to have next is enough to help you make the right decision about the immediate next step. Once you take that step, the next one after that will become clear to you. One step at a time, you pave the rest of the path to lead you to your dreams.

Want to try the pivoting exercise for yourself? Below is a simple process to help you pivot from undesirable conditions to ones you would love:

  • Think of an area in your life in which you would like improvement, e.g., work, relationships, health, etc.
  • On a sheet of paper, create two columns. In the first column, list all the conditions in this area of your life with which you are unhappy.
  • In the second column, flip each of the conditions in the first column into the opposite, e.g.,
    • no time to have fun –> ample time to have fun
    • long, stressful commute –> short, easy drive to and from work
  • Once you have your list of pivoted conditions, write more details around what each would look and feel like. For instance, what would you do with the ample time for fun? What fun things would you do? Where might your commute take you? What would you see on your way to work?

Remember, life offers us contrasting experiences to help us get clear on our dreams and desires. By experiencing what we don’t want, it helps us get to know what would make our heart sing.


30 Days To Living Your Best LifeGet clear on what you want in 30 Days To Living Your Best Life, next round to begin on April 4, 2013.

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The ideas in this article are from the Envision step of my REACH program, which is also a chapter in my book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life.

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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