23 May, 2012  |   56 Comments

Know what you want.

Walking home

When Willo interviewed me for Willotoons connect, I noticed how often I repeated the statement, you won’t get what you want unless you know what you want.

It’s so important to me that I’m going to reiterate that again,

You won’t get what you want unless you know what you want.

And the reason I say this is that if you don’t spend the time to figure out what you want, other people will do it for you.

So how do I figure out what I want?

I make lists.
Lots of lists.

I list out:
What I like.
What I want.
Places I’d like to visit,
people I want to meet,

And just as important,
what I don’t like.
What I don’t want.
Places I never want to go,
people I need to avoid,

I look for trends, I look for patterns.
I look to see how I’m prioritizing my time.

Walking home

I use 750 words, I fill my Moleskine and can’t be separated from my trusty clipboard.

With all of this seemingly unimportant work, I figure out what works for me. I’m able to focus on what I want. Cutting out what I don’t want is just as important.

At the same time, marketers are getting better and better at telling me what I want. And I’ve believed them.

They’re sponsoring aspirational Pinterest boards, they’re sponsoring aspirational trips, they’re giving money to those living the most marketable lives to continue to live those lives.

All that is so that we want those lives.
So we buy those lives.

But by making these lists,
by analyzing what it is I really want, REALLY, want, I’m better able to defend my longings against an onslaught of Covet.

Things I thought I wanted until on second thought I really didn’t at all:
To be in movies. A boat. A certain luxury brand rugged vehicle. A Paris apartment. A pool. Her life. His seemingly well-behaved children.

I don’t want those things.

I’d been convinced I wanted those things, but until I looked at what I really wanted, I realized I didn’t want those things.

By society, by marketing, I’ve been convinced I wanted those things when I really just didn’t have my own longings defined.

Walking home

What I really wanted:
A walkable community. Access to creative people. Really great ingredients for my meals. Extra time with my family. A friendly community. Great education for my kids. The means and time to be a great host.

The best thing about figuring out what you want, is that it’s fun.

Take 15 minutes today, focus on what you really want. Write it down. Cross it off if you decide you don’t want it, add in more if you want more. Make another list of everything you don’t want.

Guilt has no place in these lists.

This is your wanting.
This is your life defense.

What don’t you want that you thought you wanted?

Walking home

56 thoughts on “Know what you want.

  1. 1
    Amy says:

    I love this post so, so much. YES. To all of it.

    Can I just tell you that I’ve loved your blog for a long time, but lately, you’ve been KNOCKING IT OUT OF THE EFFING PARK? It’s true.

    Also, come visit Allison before she moves to Dallas so we can finally meet 🙂

  2. 2

    What a beautiful reminder. If I find myself struggling, comparing or wanting, I’ll check to see if I’m trying to find a solution outside of myself. The answer is always within, and while it can be scary, or daunting to navigate at first, if we take the time to stop and truly listen, our truth is there waiting to be heard.

    This also hit home: “Guilt has no place in these lists.”

    Love you, lady.

  3. 3
    whoorl says:

    You make me think, Helen Jane. Really, really think. Thank you. xoxo

  4. 4
    gorillabuns says:

    I know what I want I think I need to be more vocal about it. Thank you for this beautiful piece.

  5. 5
    Meghan says:

    I agree with Amy. This has become a blog where I want to print the posts out and hang them up around my house.

  6. 6
    Laurie says:

    Job security, apparently.

    Now that I’ve jumped off that particular ledge, I need to get to work on identifying the other stuff. Thanks for this, today and every day I’ll read it after.

  7. 7
    Nichole says:

    Brilliant, my friend. Truly.
    Such a wonderful reminder to many of us who’ve forgotten, “to thine own self be true.”
    Love this!

  8. 8
    Mom101 says:

    You are so awesome, Helen Jane. Not that I didn’t know that, but this is amazing. I love how you include things like “Access to creative people” because sometimes we forget that what we want isn’t purely material or emotional.

    This post will stay with me a long time. That’s the best kind.

  9. 9
    piperoflove says:

    my goodness, did I ever need to read this! thank you

  10. 10

    Excellent, excellent post. Thought-provoking and definitely inspring me to think much harder about what I want — and divorce that from what I’m supposed to want.

  11. 11
    blakelandau says:

    Great post. It’s so important for us to stop and look at the big picture. We can get so lost in the noise in our minds and the hustle of social media. I love your advice about making lists, and actually writing down what we want, and more importantly what we don’t want. !!! Thanks for sharing Helen.

  12. 12
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  14. 14
    I says:

    What’s the next step? I can imagine in my head what would come out of my 15 minutes of thinking. I know what I want, but I’m stuck in this life. How does a lady unstick herself?

  15. 15
    tea_austen says:

    This is such an important part of growing up and figuring out what works for you (and not what you’ve always been told). I love this post. Thanks, sweets! xox

  16. 16

    […]  this post was sitting in my draft file for a week until I read this post from Helen Jane: Know What You Want) Share This entry was posted in Blogging and the Internet and tagged blogging, niches. Bookmark […]

  17. 17
    Jenni Chiu says:

    This post was so timely for me. Last night my husband asked me what I wanted my life to be like two years from now. I had been walking around complaining about being unhappy… but then couldn’t answer his question, because I didn’t really know.
    Kismet that Nichole shared this on Facebook, and that I clicked…

  18. 18
    Torrie says:

    You’re the best. The BEST.

  19. 19
    Elena says:

    Um yes. This. This is what I need to spend time doing. My lists are in my head, and really, they need to be on paper in black and white (or maybe purple). Leaving my teaching job to open myself up to writing and social media work is great…fabulous…and dreamy, but until i hone in on the specifics of what I truly want, I am like a sail with no wind.

    • 19.1
      Helen Jane says:

      It’s tough. We’re trained early on that what we want doesn’t matter. And like good little girls, we believe it.

      Until it doesn’t work for us any more.
      And it will always stop working.

      Good luck lady, I’m cheering for you.

  20. 20
    nicole says:

    Oooh, I love this. Thank you. (Currently working on some lists of my own … It’s a process.)

  21. 21
    heather... says:

    You know what I want? I want to make the time to visit my friends, and see where they live and creative and are happiest. Like you.


  22. 22

    Oh, I really needed to read this today. Thank you for writing it.

  23. 23
    Jessica says:

    So glad Nichole B. linked to this post on fb and led me here. Such a great post. One thing I have learned is, when I look at what I really want, I find I already have it.

  24. 24
    Sarah Brown says:

    This was exactly what I needed to read right now. How did you know?

  25. 25
    Hayley says:

    my god, this came into my sphere just at the right time. (came via tara mohr on twitter)
    thank you.

  26. 26
    Angella says:

    Have I told you lately that I love you?

    So perfect, this.

  27. 27
    Rachel Jones says:

    So well written and inspiring. Thank you!

  28. 28

    […] I have been thinking about this process for weeks but today, I read Helen Jane’s post about knowing what you want. Helen wrote “You won’t get what you want unless you know what you want.” She is […]

  29. 29
    lanestar1 says:

    I want more of working with warm, wonderful people who inspire me and make me LAUGH! I love this post!

  30. 30
    tracy says:

    i want you to invite me over because I want you to be the host you want to be!!! I want to see that.

    I want a picture with Cooper sandwiched in between your little ladies.

    I just want to hang out with you!

  31. 31

    Thanks for making me think Helen Jane.
    Love this line, “better able to defend my longings against an onslaught of Covet.”

  32. 32
    Holly says:

    This! This is so amazing and beautiful. I heard you speak at Mom 2.0 at Key Biscayne earlier this month and am glad I came back to your site to read this.

    Your point about marketable lives really struck me because I realized this about my own family without having your words to make it take shape: We’re not a very marketable family. The things we do and don’t do are often not really the norm.

    Although I really do want a boat (or at least access to one).

    Must get to list writing.

  33. 33
    Catherine says:

    Oh, HJ, did you ever know that you’re my guru? I’m now spending my bike rides to and from work thinking about ‘listables’ and jotting them down on the other end. So far, so fabulous. Thank you.

  34. 34

    HJ, your posts are resonating in the deepest possible way with me! I’ve just finished writing about the importance of a very similar sort of list — the More/Less list. Before we can read a map, we need a compass. That’s exactly what these kinds of lists create. Easy to let a noisy, busy life get in the way of making time for this sort of introspection. I’m so glad you’re reminding us all to do it…in your beautifully graceful, direct way.

  35. 35

    Perfectly (and I mean PERFECTLY) said. I’m writing a lot about my own mapmaking these days, and I need to use this post as a model of clarity in explaining an internal process.

    Coveting is such a reliable signal that I need to look at what I want/don’t want. I’m also discovering that irritation is another. When I am annoyed that someone else is DOING IT WRONG, it’s a pointer to what I don’t need or want to do.

    I also appreciate that you brought in the cultural context. It’s so damn easy to get swept up in the tide.

  36. 36
    Danielle says:

    Oh dear, I could read your posts all day long. I like your style, Helen Jane, in addition to liking your menus. Yes, we need to know what we want. It’s so simple, yet so difficult some days, or, at least, it feels that way. This past year I’ve been complaining about not getting what I want, but in many ways I don’t even know what I’d like to be doing/getting/being. Lists, I’ve got some lists to write.

    Thanks, as always, for a truly thoughtful post.

  37. 37
    Suebob says:

    I spent 30 years in relationships where I was never happy. Now I have stopped dating and I feel more like myself, calm and happy. Every single thing in life tells you that you NEED a relationship to be happy. Turns out I didn’t.

  38. 38
    arwa says:

    wonderful that is what i was looking for !
    Thanks with my best regards

  39. 39
    anandi says:

    I’m such a fan of lists, and love this. I shared it on Facebook and several of my friends really liked it too 😀

  40. 40
    Karen says:

    Helen Jane, thank you. Your post had such perfect timing. The many to-do lists that seem to rule my life lately have been stressing me out. Making the lists you describe will be the perfect antidote–i even set aside some time this weekend to do it (it’s on another list!).

  41. 41
    Kathleen says:

    I’m a huge fan of lists and really enjoyed this post. Your mandate of “no guilt” on the lists helps, as I’m really struggling with something I want which has the potential to hurt people I care about. I know it’s something I need to do, but have put it off for years because I want to avoid confrontation and keep things peaceful at home. Your words have given me much to think about, and I thank you…

  42. 42

    […] you to Karen Walrond and  Helen Jane for the inspiration that pushed me to create my […]

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