Have you ever paused to ask yourself why you want what you want?
If you answered “no,” you’re far from alone. Many of us understand what we want, but never pause to ask ourselves why or consider the factors that might have influenced our choices.
The reasons behind the things we want are personal and complex. They also don’t exist in a vacuum. We are influenced by family, friends, school, the media and societal norms. But whether we’re talking about your personal life, educational goals, or career aspirations, it’s a good idea to understand the behind the things you want.
Start by brainstorming
Don’t worry if you find the “why” question surprisingly hard to answer. Most people do at first. We’re used to thinking about what we want, but not so much about why. So if you don’t know the answer straight away, don’t worry!
Start by brainstorming. Write one of your big dreams, goals, or aspirations in the middle of a sheet of paper and then jot down all the reasons you can think of for why you might want that particular thing.
For example, let’s imagine your ultimate career goal is to become a doctor. Your “why” might include reasons like, “good salary” and “opportunity to help people”.
Remember – there are no right or wrong answers. Nothing is too silly, too trivial, or too vague. If it feels real and important to you, write it down.
What if my reasons aren’t “good”?
We’re not here to tell you what counts as a “good” or “bad” reason to want something. Only you can answer whether something is a good reason
But what if you identify a reason at the root of one of your dreams or desires that you don’t think is healthy for you? A common example amongst young people is striving for a particular career path because they believe it’s what their partners or teachers expect of them, rather than because it’s what they actually want.
Identifying a troubling or problematic reason behind something you want doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to throw that goal out completely and start again. But it does mean that you should take the time to confront it and make sure you’re still happy with the choices you’re making and your reasons for them.
Addressing the difficult issues
Sometimes, asking yourself why you want something can bring up some difficult issues.
You might realise that you’re following others’ expectations for you or pursuing the things society tells you to want, rather than the things you actually want. Or you might simply be feeling confused, stressed out, or unsure of the way forward.
If that happens, we recommend you talk to someone. Talking through your thoughts and feelings can go a long way towards sorting them out. Can you talk to a trusted family member, friend, counsellor, careers advisor, mentor, or teacher to get some outside perspective on how you’re feeling? Sometimes, people who are a step removed from your dilemma can offer insight that you were too close to the problem to see.
You can also do some introspective work to help yourself understand what’s going on better. Try journaling, meditation, self-awareness exercises , or simply sitting patiently with your thoughts as you untangle them.
Whatever approaches you take, remember to be gentle with yourself. Understanding yourself and the things you want can be challenging. None of this has to be done in a rush – you don’t need to know all the answers straight away.
Remember: it’s never too late to change course
The things we want and the things that matter to us change throughout our lives. After all, how many people actually end up doing the job they thought they wanted when they were five or ten or even eighteen?
Goals, dreams, and priorities change. That’s normal. If you realise the path you’re on isn’t the right one for you, it’s always okay to make a course correction.
Is the career you thought you’d love no longer working for you? Are you studying one programme but wishing you’d chosen another? Would you like to live somewhere else, try a new hobby, or spend more time with different people?
Asking yourself the “why” behind your wants can help you to see more clearly whether you’re on the right path or not. And if you decide you’re not? You’re allowed to change your mind.
Exercise: If I Could Do Anything…
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re not limited by practicalities. What career would you want, what educational path would you pursue, or what skill would you want to perfect?
Write down the phrase, “If I could do anything, I would…” and then complete it in 1 – 3 sentences. Don’t worry if your desire seems viable or practical. Just name it.
Next, ask yourself why you’d want that. Write down between 5 and 10 reasons why that particular dream appeals to you so strongly. Again, don’t worry about choosing “good” reasons. The only right answers are the ones that feel genuine and authentic to you.
Finally, look at the reasons you’ve identified, and ask yourself what other possible routes you might be able to take to meet those needs. Are you seeking creative fulfilment, the opportunity to make a difference in the world, the chance to do a lot of traveling, or a work/life balance that allows you to put your family first?
There are usually multiple possible ways to meet the needs that sit at the core of the things we want. This exercise allows you to get to the root of those needs and explore some of the different approaches you could take to meeting them.