When You Don’t Know What You Want

When you walk into a diner (remember walking into diners?) you usually don’t know what you want. 

The laminated menus are a ridiculous 134 pages long, so you know you’ll have plenty of options.

After 10 minutes or so, you make a decision.

You choose a burger. Maybe it’s amazing, maybe it’s dry.

Or you’re vegan, so you get a salad. Came with that vegan feta you love. Nice surprise!

Or, you see what your friend gets and suffer silent order envy. Maybe steal a fry.

Whatever it is, to satisfy your hunger and fulfill the purpose of your diner visit, you had to MAKE A DECISION IN A LIMITED TIME FRAME.

This is normal. This is what we do at diners.

What would be CRAZY would be to sit there for hours and never order. What would be just plain NUTSO, would be to get hangry, irritable, lament how hard decisions are, sulk in the booth, and generally feel lost and helpless and not in control of your entire life because you “don’t know what you want” and “can’t decide.” 

Yeah, THAT would be insane for sure.

But … we do this all the time! With our lives, careers, and dreams. Even our relationships.

We say, “I don’t know what I want” and then suffer because we see other people (usually on insta) doing their thing and think, “Look at them. They must know exactly what they want and they’re just doing it.” 

Years go by.

So, if you are struggling because you “don’t know what you want” try the following. 

1. Stop debating your desires. 
Desire is a feeling. And many times what we want isn’t rational. You can choose to act on desire, or not, but getting over analytical about desire is a recipe for instant internal resistance and confusion. Instead, start by giving yourself permission just to want. 

2. Decide what you DON’T want. 
Good old process of elimination! If you’re vegetarian, you’re not getting that burger. Last week one of my client’s said, “I don’t know what I want, but I know there is no way I’m going back to a full time corporate gig. No way.” Nice. Now we’re narrowing it down.

3. Narrow down further by imagining the experience any “thing” is ultimately going to serve.
Want a promotion? OK. Is that because you value leadership? Responsibility? Or is is because you think you deserve it? Because they owe you? Or that the title and pay raise will make you feel more seen and secure? Ultimately, goals themselves are just a means to an experience. What’s the experience you want? 

4. Make better friends with your unknown future.
Alan Watts said, “A completely predictable future is already the past. You’ve had it! That’s not what you want. You want a surprise.” 
Life is ultimately a great mystery and every person I know (literally EVERY SINGLE ONE INCLUDING ALL THE CEOS OF GLOBAL COMPANIES WE’VE COACHED) is making it up as they go along. Those who act like they know what they want all the time are just better at acting. We all have to face the unknown. True confidence is found in trusting yourself to BE with any circumstance, person or challenge and KNOW that you handle it. 

5. Don’t DIY. MANY clients hire us because they know what they want. Heck, we’re still figuring it out and making it up as we go along! It’s called mystery, creativity, surprise! 

by Taren Sterry, MA,CT, PCC
Professional Certified Coach & Trainer
Founder, Big Time

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