To feel alive, we must know what we want and need. As simple as it sounds, there is a multitude of people for whom this is not simple at all; those who live with constant confusion and uncertainty about who they are, what they want, desire, and need.
Recently, I was working with a young woman who was agonizing over a decision about taking a job offer with a large corporate law firm or starting her own practice with some friends from law school. One week she was so sure she wanted to join the firm , the next week, she was racked with anxiety and doubt. The more advice she got, the greater was her confusion. She was told by many what a great firm this was and how lucky she would be to work for it, yet she was never sure. She kept making lists, evaluating the pros and cons, but she was still confused and unable to make a decision. I pointed out to her that the only question she had to answer was: Do you want this career path or not? This question helped her to access what I call, her center of personal initiative and tune out all the external voices which were confusing her. When she focused on this question, the answer became clear as day to her. She realized she did not want to start her own practice and joined the law firm.
In order to consistently make decisions from our center of personal initiative, we must listen to, value, and trust our feelings, desires, needs, and perceptions. When we can’t trust ourselves, we agonize over decisions, often relying on others to tell us “what’s good for us or what the right thing to do is.” The more we rely on others, the more we lose ownership of our decisions and our lives and the more lost and dead we feel.
The main reason why people don’t know what they want is that as children they did not grow up with caregivers who valued and validated their emotional world. In such an environment, children do not learn to trust themselves and their decision making. Often such children become very good at accommodating to the needs of their caregivers thus sacrificing their own needs and desires in order to preserve desperately needed ties to their caregivers. Accommodating children become accommodating adults, which means they become very good at sensing what others feel and need while dismissing their own feelings and needs. The more one accommodates the less one differentiates and the less one differentiates, the more disconnected one becomes from one’s feelings, needs, and desires.
On the other hand, children who grow up with caregivers who value their emotional world and are emotionally attuned (which I believe is the number one responsibility of parenting) learn to value their own emotional world, trusting themselves and their ability to make good decisions. Such children comfortably differentiate from their parents as they take more and more ownership of their decisions and their lives.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “To be myself, or not to be myself, that is the question.” I believe that the problem of accommodation which underlies the struggle to act consistently from one’s center of personal initiative is one of the greatest psychological problems of modern life. So many people feel lost and dead due to this problem. The good news is that with proper counsel and guidance such individuals can live a life of ownership, passion, and authenticity.