Want what you want.

Short story, for context:

When I was on the speaker circuit for trade show and event managers, I worked with an organizational psychologist who worked with Fortune 50 companies to improve corporate culture and facilitate change. I learned a great deal from him and have dozens of great stories from our time together, but one stands out.

After getting an advanced degree in social work, my friend began his career working with incarcerated men pre-release to help set them up for success when they re-entered the world. The story he heard most often from the men went something like, “My mama drank, and my daddy beat me, and I didn’t have anyone or anything I could rely on.” His approach was to help them identify what assets (relationships, in particular) they *did* have that could support them in a different way, on a different path.

It was challenging work, but he enjoyed it. The only problem was that the pay structure made it hard to support his growing family.

So he started a private practice. Working with his clients — who were mostly high-level businessmen with few, if any, confidantes — the story he often heard went something like, “My mama drank, and my daddy beat me, so I’ve had to work hard to get past that and build a different life,”

My friend would tell this story as an introduction to his seminar about the power of choice, about how different choices in similar situations can lead to different outcomes.

After a few years of hearing this same talk and reflecting on its meaning, I asked my friend what the story meant for him, at a personal level. What did that specific story mean about the choice he made, for himself?

After an awkward silence, he acknowledged choosing to use his skills, talents, and experience to help people who could afford to pay him, so he could provide for his family. He added, quickly, that being financially successful in his practice allowed him to volunteer and support charitable causes that were important to him, including work to help incarcerated men.

I’ve thought about this friend, this story, this idea – the power of choice – and its implications for more than 20 years now. It has taken a while to see the story behind the story, the *want* behind the choice.

Today’s work: Spend some dedicated time focusing on what you want, for yourself, by yourself. Not what other want from you or expect of you, but what you truly want. As in the previous exercises, this work will belong only to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone or share it. You can burn after writing if that makes you feel better and absolves whatever guilt arises from giving yourself permission to want things.

(And a note, for anyone who hasn’t been following along in recent days: I’m giving followers here a free walk-through of a course called “Your First 100 Days,” a structured approach to help turn ideas into action. The first post in this series is here.)

I encourage you to consider that it’s OK to want things for yourself and to want things for other people. It’s OK to feel a sense of conflict between wants and needs, between wants and obligations. Patiently pursuing a *want* over time, working toward something over a period of hours, days, weeks or even years, begins with being clear about the desire.

It’s also OK to change your mind about what you want, to evolve over time.

The experience we’ve reviewed in the first days of work — looking through the past year, checking in with feelings and gratitude – is rich territory for exploring wants, needs, and obligations.

The purpose of today’s exercise, listing “100 Wants,” is to give substance and momentum that we’ll use in the next module when we start setting 3-5 year goals. The big idea? When long-term and short-term goals are grounded in experience and propelled by desire, they take on personal meaning and power to help you achieve them.

One thing I’ve observed in working with colleagues, coaching clients, and mentees on goal setting, is that it’s easy to skip to goal setting and to do that work as an external, intellectual activity. It’s also common for people to set goals based on what others expect or want, especially when setting professional, work-related goals.

I’m suggesting a different approach. Identifying what you want and using the power of those desires to set goals will help you stay committed to the goal for 100 days so you can then determine whether or not you want to keep chasing that goal.


If you printed the workbook, then you’ll be using the sheet that looks like this:

If you didn’t print the sheet, then a blank sheet of paper will be fine. Why 100? Because it’s a challenging number to reach. It’s pretty easy to think of 5 or even 10 things you want. It’s tough to come up with 100. In my personal experience, the first 10 are top-of-mind, big picture, the next 10-20 are ridiculous (but equally valid) pie-in-the sky dreams, the 20-40 after that are micro-level specific (“I want someone to brush the dog so I don’t have to do it today…”), and the last 30-40 are the goldmine. If it’s helpful, think of the first half as a warm-up and the second half as the real work.

The 74th item on your list might be a more specific expression of an earlier item. (Example: “I want a new car” repeats as “I want _________ car.”)

As in the previous exercises, don’t overthink this one. If time pressure is helpful for you, then set a timer for 20 minutes, see how far you get, and then come back to the work. But do get to 100.

Tomorrow we’ll recap module one. This weekend I’ll have a different offering, and then on Monday, for all who are following along with the workbook, we’ll jump into module 2.

Enjoying this so far? Drop a comment and let me know. Have suggestions? Send those, too.

One comment

  1. […] Using the worksheet that looks like this (below), or on a blank sheet of paper, write words that describe your dream/ideal state/vision for yourself in the areas of health, family, relationships, career, and personal life in general. This first step is just a word exercise. If you get stuck, look back over the list of 100 Wants. […]


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