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Wants vs. Needs


For someone who consistently needs to reach into my heart to tap into my creativity, I spend an awful lot of time in my head. Being cerebral and very much an academic during my twenties, I was trained to think more than feel, especially when it came to matters of work–personal or professional.

I’m extremely resistant to change. Our brains are wired to protect us from the unknown, making it harder to be receptive to new things. I have a habit of keeping at something familiar and hard, rather than exploring a new and potentially easier solution. Only if I consciously push myself to try something new (which I’ve come to realize is actually a muscle you can strengthen through micro-changes on a daily basis), can I emerge with a “darn, this is so much better of an option, why didn’t I try this earlier?” answer.

My resistance to change and difficulty starting (or getting rid of) a new habit is one of the reasons why what I learn in coaching programs is difficult for me to implement. To begin with, finding a good coach is a quest in itself; it’s important to have a good rapport with the person you’re going to work with, especially if you’re delving into deep core issues you probably haven’t dealt with your entire life. And second, what you want isn’t necessarily what you need. Other people are good at telling me what I need, but it’s hard for me to listen to them because I know what I want. And for the majority of my life, my wants and needs have always been different–in many cases, the opposite.

An example is I love being alone; I love walking in new cities by myself and unwinding at home solo. My day job mostly consists of working with remote employees (I’m one of two required to be on-site). I pretty much have a forty-person space all to myself. I revel in it. I get my work done on time, and the spare moments I would normally use to chit chat with colleagues are geared to more productive projects where I can do my best work.

But a few months ago contractors came to install new technology in one of our conference rooms. At first, I felt invaded in my space; the space I’d been occupying mostly by myself for the last eighteen months. But after the kerfuffle and logistical nuisances were sorted, I found myself enjoying having people around, even if they were random strangers who I knew I’d never meet again. I noticed I was more energized as I sauntered around the office, and felt my mood lift. All this time, while enjoying my solitude (which I still do), I’d forgotten I needed human contact for social balance, proving I don’t think I’m as introverted as I initially believed.

I have nomadic tendencies and the idea of a remote job is appealing to me. But what I need is to stay in a city for a little while instead of bouncing around, in order to build community and foster connections I know I’ll need as I get older. I love fleeting connections–but that’s all they are: fleeting. Long-term relationships (romantic or not), are critical, especially if I decide not to have children.

What I want is to eat lots of cakes and pastries, but what I need is to fix my psychological issue with sugar. I thought my dependency on it was physical, but on close examination, I was able to pinpoint that my reliance on it was to reward myself mentally after dealing with any kind of difficult task. I didn’t physically shake when my blood sugar fell. Instead, I felt a weird void that (only temporarily) disappeared after I had a chocolate bar. Still working on this one–daily.

When I’m in what I call my mental vortex i.e. thinking about writing or what I ‘should’ be doing, I want to delve more, introspect more, and dig more. But what I need is to pull back, call my friends and go outside to let off steam, or watch a play at the theatre. Sometimes going away can give perspective. When you’re too close (or in your own vortex), it’s hard to see what you’re creating. When I go hard at my work and start to feel too neurotic, what I need is to chill the fuck out.

A big beast was my romantic relationships. What I gravitated towards were dangerous, avoidant men because they were exciting and unpredictable (something that resonated with my sense of adventure), but what I needed was an emotionally available man who called for adventure not as an escape, but as a way to satisfy curiosity and grow.

Do you need to be around people? Or alone with trees? Photo by Deeana Arts on Pexels

What I wanted was to live in a gorgeous city like Vancouver which was a lovely coastal space adjacent to the Pacific ocean. I was willing to overlook its’ passive culture (not suited for everyone), but what I needed was a creative, diverse community like Toronto where I could find my own subcultures.

I’ve learned the lesson of want and need through endless forms of trial and error. I’m improving my radar at being able to acknowledge when I need help, and listen to those who are objective (and care about me enough) to discern what I want versus what I need. Sometimes it’s as simple as buying a pair of shoes you absolutely adore and promise yourself will wear, but your friend reminds you: do you really need it? Shouldn’t you replace the old trainers you’ve been meaning to for ages?

I should mention that what you want is not a form of indulgence–your heart is trying to tell you something. But that’s usually only part of the equation. Yes, I want the remote job, but that could come later after I’ve spent time in Toronto and figured out the next step. 

We could argue we need to do certain things first in order to get what we want.

Cakes and pastries make me happy, and I won’t stop eating them. But every day I’m developing the self-awareness to discern between constantly needing it to push bad emotions down, versus having it to enjoy with my coffee to enjoy my weekend morning. I can buy those impractical shoes, but only once I’ve saved up for them, and for now, I can be ok with just replacing my trainers. I can return to Vancouver when I want a breather from the daily grind of Toronto life, but will I want to live there again? Not now. Later? Maybe.

Is what you want in line with what you need? If they’re not the same, do you see the resistance, and why that resistance exists? Tell me in your comments!


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