Of all the personal growth skills that people think they need to cultivate or refine, there’s one vitally important skill that lies at the center of everything, yet almost always goes unacknowledged:
You’ve got to know how to truly WANT what it is that you want. You’ve got to be intimately connected to your sense of DESIRE.
Most personal growth talk centers around figuring out WHAT it is that you want, and that’s a worthy exploration .
But the skill that needs more development is the cultivation of what I call True Desire, the truest connection to your truest longing, without pandering to false, hollow substitutes.
Narcissism vs. Desire
“Uh, Kate, I don’t think desire is a problem. Have you looked around, lately, at the utter wasteland of narcissism that our society has turned into?”
Yeah, I have–but narcissism isn’t the same thing as being tapped into true desire.
Sex seems the obvious example to explain the difference between narcissism and true desire. When you’re hot n’ heavy in the throes of passion with your partner, half of the desire is wrapped up in being present to their responses to your responses, a dance of pleasure that moves back and forth: they respond, you respond, they respond, you respond.
After all, the best sex is the free-flowing kind where all sense of reason is lost and you can’t exactly tell who started what, and no one person is responsible for keeping the chemistry flowing.
True Desire radiates because it’s for the collective good of the experience, not to satisfy the needs of the isolated ego (anything else is just…masturbation–regardless of who else is in the room).
There are four big ways that we subvert our True Desires in pursuit of the close substitutes:
Here are some examples:
This past year, I bought a new car when my old car hit the skids. My dream car is a mini-cooper. Instead, I talked myself into buying the practical Corolla.
All these months later, I realize that while I affirm and appreciate my Corolla, if I had it to do over again, I would be hitting that “Make a Payment” button each month with a sense of giddy joy at my (meep-meep!) cute little turquoise mini cooper.
When I was buying the Corolla, I didn’t even test drive a mini. The part of me that grew up poor, under circumstances where food money was sometimes tight and utilities were sometimes turned off, rose up and said, “Who do you think you are, to get a brand new car when you should get a used car? If you’re going to get a new car, at the very least, it must be practical!”
(Can you “hear” the wound in that? I share it with you in the interests of vulnerability and transparency).
Another example: I’ve met a lot of people who get so perfectionistic about finishing things that they never finish things. I had a friend in college who was constantly needing to renegotiate deadlines with professors because of this.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t doing the work; by contrast, she was working far more than she ever needed to. We would find her in the cafeteria in the morning, greasy-haired and exhausted, after having pulled another (unnecessary) all-nighter.
She didn’t know how to release the grip and let the work be the work, which is what would have allowed her to feel the satisfaction of doing her best, finishing something, and being proud of what she’d put into it. The perfectionism cut her off from her True Desires.
There are people who acquire things, putting endless amounts of time into the purchasing decision and fantasizing about how it’s going to affirm their life in some way. Tom Shadyac, movie director and creator of the documentary I AM, talks about working to afford a multi-million dollar mansion, and how he closed the door on the first day after the movers were gone and looked around his big house, suddenly confronted with a sense of deep emptiness.
These are all examples of someone putting a lot of energy into false substitutes, instead of going straight for the risk and the joy of True Desires.
What do you truly desire?
If you’re going to dial down into identifying what your True Desires are, a great place to start is also the simplest: start exactly where you are. That will tell you absolutely everything that you need to know.
(This week, I’m providing a list of questions for my YCL e-letter friends, that help you to identify your True Desires. Subscribe here.)
At the very start of this inquiry, though, is having enough courage to look at your life and start parsing the status quo and obligation away from your True Desires. The two get so mixed up and convoluted that sometimes it can be hard to tell the space between.
Accept no hollow substitutes. This is your one and only life, and even though the questions can be hard to ask, that challenge before you is to practice the courage of examination, anyway.
This is your one true and precious life. Is it lived in a space of fulfillment of your True Desires?