Friday, May 19, 2017
What do you want? It's a common phrasing to a question few people know how to answer, and its weight varies with the content after the word 'want.'
What do you want for dinner? What do you want to do tonight? What do you want from your life?
As a rising senior at the University of Arkansas, trying to answer the last question has left me stupefied. Every time I think I have the answer, I write it down in pen. It gives my self-defined purpose the semblance of permanency, but my answer has never lasted more than a few weeks.
I now have a notebook filled with black and blue scribbles that looks more like a few angry games of tic-tac-toe than my life's mission.
In short, I'm afraid. For me, the uncertainty of life is only eclipsed by the minimal amount of control we have over our uncertain circumstances. How can I know what I want when I don't know what is going to happen? It's poor justification for avoiding life's most central question, but I've held on to it for some time.
Saying that "I don't know" is a consistent answer in an inconsistent world, and for many years I've found solace in that cowardly response. It's a comfortable answer that has shielded people from their potential for generations, because saying "I don't know" only means that you don't care to. It means that you'd rather settle for an inconclusive ending than one filled with conviction.
I accepted this defeat until my last urban politics class this semester. The professor, a certified urban planner teaching one of his final classes at the UofA, said he'd like to share some advice.
As a preface, he said this sentence could be linked to his successes in California, New York, and Nebraska, and that he always brought it up when interviewing potential employees. He said it's the most important thing personally, professionally, and it needs to be addressed at some point in every relationship.
I was anxious to hear what he had to say. I learned more in his class than I have in several others combined, and I was certain that his advice would become law to me.
As he began scribbling in front of the class, I smirked. In light blue, fading ink on a dry board in Kimpel Hall were the words "Know what you want." A four-word answer to a four-word question I thought was impossible to solve.
However, in less than an hour, my perception of that brutal question changed. It turns out I've been answering it for years. I learned that every major success I've enjoyed has been because I knew what I wanted when I started. Not explicitly, but by earning an internship, or making an A on a final exam, I achieved something that I had been focusing on and I hadn't forgotten the reason I started.
Foresight and self-awareness are the co-dependent tools that will help us answer the overbearing "What do you want?" questions in our lives. By learning about ourselves we can begin to define our internal motivations and foresight will allow us to use that information well.
There is not a single person who doesn't know what they want. Everyone wants something, and more often than not, people want many things. Our failures to answer life's biggest questions aren't due to a lack of information, they're due to a lack of introspection and planning.
Don't be scared to answer questions you've written off as unintelligible. Interview yourself and speak honestly to retrieve the truth; it's the only way to answer that nagging question.
Gabriel Lodge is a rising senior at the University of Arkansas studying editorial journalism and political science. He will be spending his summer interning at Bicycling Magazine in Emmaus, Pa.
Editorial on 05/19/2017
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