The Cost of Not Knowing What You Want

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Last Updated on March 1, 2023 by the thought method co.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they question what they want. We typically call this a “midlife” or “quarter-life” or existential” crisis. And while it may be funny to laugh and say “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing”, we need to focus more on figuring what we want. Because the cost of not knowing what you want is extremely high.

And when I say costs, I don’t just mean monetary costs; I mean opportunity and others. So we need to get into the habit of focusing on and questioning what we want daily.  

In this article we are going to discuss: 3 reasons why you might not know what you want; 7 costs of not knowing what you want; and how to create the healthy habit of figuring out and focusing on what you want so you can live a happy a fulfilling life.

Why You Don’t Know What You Want

Many people don’t know what they want because they never thought about it. Or they never even thought to think about it. Or they have been taught to focus on others and what other people what so they may have never even considered it.

Instances where we are encouraged to consider what other people want instead of ourselves can fly under the radar as “normal” parts of the human experience but I can assure you there is nothing “normal” about it.

1.Cultural Influences

Articles like “What Women Want” and “What Men Want” are written for readers who want to attract a specific sex. It overgeneralizes and puts people into categories which is unproductive. Because not all women want the same thing (even though we are being told that we do).

Related Podcast: Overgeneralization & Mindsets – 67

Not just articles, media, news, social media, tv and movies that depict the “perfect” life influence our wants and can make us think we want what we see even if it is unobtainable or not what we really want.

2. Family

It has been normalized that parents mold their children into “mini-me” and can tell their children the direction their life should take. Parents may pressure their children to follow a specific career path or may have tell their children to be a doctor or lawyer because that’s what they wanted.

Or maybe children are shamed by family for focusing on what they want with statements such as, “I sacrificed for you so I want you to be a doctor,” or “You need to give me a grand baby”. Children may also have been told to listen and not ask: “you are to be seen, not heard,” or told what they wanted by projection.

3. Capitalism

Ahh, the C word. When revenue is on the line it is imperative for companies to make sure we want what they offer. So not only do we have cultural influences like magazine articles and television shows, we also have companies with billion dollar marketing budgets telling us what we want.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been told that I (as a white female) want a pumpkin latte. Fuck that. No judgement, but pumpkin lattes taste like shit (I don’t need to try one—I just know). I want black coffee, peace and tranquility.

Not Knowing What You Want Is Costing You

Not knowing what you want can negatively impact every aspect of your life including:

1. Feeling Stuck

When you don’t focus on or consider what you want, you hinder yourself and end up getting stuck. Because if you aren’t focused on what you want, then you have no direction. And with that lack of direction, you are likely to focus on what someone else or society wants. That kind of focus will not give you the internal motivation or drive you need to be successful. You are setting yourself up for failure.

2. Lost Opportunities

When you don’t know what you want, you can get stuck and become inactive. No decision is a decision and you might have opportunities pass you by because you are not sure you want them. Or you may reject the desire for them because you have been rejecting the notion you need to focus on what you want.  

3. Anxiety

Focusing on other people’s needs and not your own will create anxiety. Because you cannot control what other people think or feel. So one day someone may want something and the next they won’t. You’ll never know where you stand and constantly feel anxious and on edge.

Related article: Stoicism and the Trichotomy of Control: Why You Need to Know What It Is and How It Changed My Life!

4. Expensive

Not knowing what you want is expensive. Because if you don’t know what you want you can get stuck in a routine you don’t want to be in. You could drive a car you don’t like but you purchased because you thought you should. You could even have a family or children that you weren’t sure you wanted but had because you felt you should or were pressured.

These things have high financial tolls. Not to mention all the little things you buy but don’t actually want. All the small purchases add up and then end up sitting in the closet. Oh look now here’s you paying for a junk removal company to come haul off the shit you didn’t want.

5. Depression.

If a child was told they needed to be a doctor. And then that child spent most of their life in school studying to do just that. Then that child will become depressed when they realize they want to be a dancer or a musician. That child may watch a dancer and think “why not me?”

The depression also hits when we realize we are gravitating away from who we naturally are—our true inner being. When we gravitate away from our natural being, we cling onto external validation and external things to make us happy like “retail therapy” (ugh). But retail therapy is fleeting and will end up just making you feel worse in the end.

6. Identity Crisis

You may end up living a life that is a combination of what cultural narratives, family, and friends have told you want and not what you actually want. This will lead to a disconnect and a feeling of loneliness and hopelessness. You are lonely because you lost yourself.

7. Low Confidence and Lack of Empowerment

If you don’t focus on what you want, you will lose confidence in your decision making. This will lead to an unhealthy reliance on asking others for opinions and suggestions for how to handle everyday situations. The inability to decide will leave you with a lack of confidence and empowerment.

How to Figure Out What You Want

One day you may have the midlife or quarter-life crisis and question, “how did I get here?” You got to where you are by making decisions. Decision that were driven by what you thought you wanted.

So instead of allowing things to build up, and before you get completely lost start the daily habit of focusing on what you want.

For example, if you are driving to the beach for the weekend instead of thinking, “I don’t want to sit in traffic.” Think, “I want to get there safe and quickly.”

Or if you go on a date, you can think you want to have a connection with the person you are meeting, not that you don’t want them to be boring.

Or if you plan an event, instead of thinking that you don’t want it to rain, think that you want it to be a beautiful and sunny day.

Focusing on what you want instead of what you don’t want will not guarantee that you’ll get what you want. But these small mindset shifts will help you get in the habit of focusing on your wants. And with that focus you will attract more of what you want so you can live a happy and fulfilling life.

Photo by Mike Arney