Consider this question: What do you really, really want?
The question isn’t about what you want. It’s about what you really, really want. Think about it.
When talking with early career professionals, the topic of college often arises. Did they really choose to go to college, or did they go to college because it was “time to go to college”? Choosing to go to college entails seriously entertaining options that are not college. It’s different from choosing which colleges to apply to or which one to attend.
Expectations Vs. Choices
Most of us who went to college didn’t choose to go. We were too young to make such a deep choice for ourselves at the time. We went because that is what people like us did.
Over the course of our lives and careers, there are and will be more choices. How do we more intentionally — willfully — “choose” rather than just going through the motions of “choosing”?
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~ Joseph Campbell
Psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his hierarchy of human needs, of which he defined six levels. The first three levels include the need for some degree of security and acceptance from others and the other world. It’s reasonable to say we want security and safety and social acceptance. However, these three levels do not represent our deeper, authentic wants and potential. When we only exist at the level of “should,” “have to,” and “must,” we are living at the imperative of outer demands and expectations.
Authenticity: Aligning Our Actions with Our Values
Authenticity has many meanings. Here are two:
- The condition in which what’s outside matches what’s inside. Does what you do (outside) match your values (inside)?
- Being genuine and unique. Is what you are choosing in your life faithful to your unique talents and desires?
As we develop in in life, we desire to express ourselves authentically. In Maslow’s hierarchy, we want to self-actualize and self-transcend. The language there is that of “choose to,” “love to,” and “called to.” Rather than being acted upon (imperative), we act upon our lives and the world around us (indicative).
Consider a scenario in which we may choose between two paths.
Path A and Path B
Path A comes with greater security and social acceptance. For many, going to college was Path A. It’s hard to argue with going to college. Your parents and peers are not going to challenge that decision. Path A feels comfortable. It’s what people expect of you, and you don’t want to disappoint them.
Path B feels riskier because there are fewer people on it. You are called to figure it out on your own. The only guidance is a little voice inside you that beckons you towards what you really, really want.
Here’s an example. An undergraduate business student expressed a desire to become an investment banker. But did he want to go into investment banking? His heart didn’t seem completely into that path. A mentor asked him to imagine there were no external expectations on him. In that case, what would he really, really want to do?
His answer: Open a restaurant. That is Path B.
Authenticity is a Choice. What’s Yours?
Consider your future: What is Path A and what is Path B?
What do you really really want?