Are your desires yours?
There are key moments in life (like when we decide what to study, whether to say ‘yes’ to the job, whether to get married, whether to have children, whether to buy the house, etc.) that I believe ask us to pause, challenge ourselves and inquire:
“Is this really what I want? Or is this what I think I want based on the paradigms I grew up with, what was modelled to me by the people close to me, the beliefs I have adopted, someone else’s wishes I’ve internalised, what society tells me I should want…?”
The answers to these questions are hardly ever absolute, black or white, dichotomous. Because we are social creatures, our inner life, our authentic desires, are always somewhat intertwined with our outer life. To some extent we all have desires that are partly conditioned, wired, polished, edited, and it can be hard to even grasp or imagine what our desires would look like if we lived in isolation.
Rather than trying to seek an absolute answer, the answer should be somewhere on a spectrum. On one side of the scale – our inner authentic desires, and on the other side – outer expectations. The question is what are we leaning more towards? Who are we trying to please? Ourselves or others?
As human beings, we learn, grow, and work as part of society. We learn how to behave in this world alongside societal norms and expectations, society's beliefs and societal values. In this process, we learn how to please others in order to fit in and belong. We are also biologically wired to want to be loved and accepted. When a baby is born, his/her life is dependent on the love and care of their caretakers. It’s also how our ancestors survived – by staying part of the tribe.
So we all please others to some extent, it’s not a behaviour we can, or perhaps even want, to completely get rid of. The question is: At what cost?
Throughout our life we compile a book of ‘rules’, shoulds and expectations: I have to excel, I need to get a degree, I need to roll up my sleeves and work (hard!), I need to have a secure profession, a job title, I need to earn a lot, raise children, I should eat healthy and exercise, I should look a certain way… you get the idea.
Over the years we get tired. It's exhausting to always have to be something. It's tedious and boring to hold the same forced role. There comes a point when we realise that even though we did everything we thought was expected of us we still don’t feel the satisfaction we thought will come with external validation.
When our need to please others comes at the expense of our own desires it will often cost us in our integrity and energy. We end up with a car we didn’t truly want to buy. We end up in a committed relationship we didn’t really want to be in. We end up in a career path that isn’t ours.
It cost us ourselves.
One of the indications that we've been in the people pleasing zone for too long is when we absolutely have no idea what we want. It’s often a sign that we learned to suppress our desires to the point where we don’t even know what they are.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas it says –
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
What we learn from it is that we all have deep dreams and desires, and if we deny them we become estranged from ourselves, from our spirit. Each time we put someone else's desire on top of our own, the gap gets bigger and bigger. Each time we go after someone else’s desires, external expectations, our focus turns outwards rather than inwards.
Because we’re social creatures, we need to learn to dance between our own desires and someone else's desires. Sometimes that means compromising and going with the flow. And sometimes it means leaving the ‘conventional’ path in order to create your own. Both have trade-offs. That’s not good or bad, it just is something to know and explore the consequences of.
With all that’s nuanced and context-dependent here, I think a few things are for sure: doing the discernment consciously is very different than simply defaulting to unconscious people-pleasing. Knowing the costs of people-pleasing, particularly the cost to our own energy and fulfilment, is key. And no matter what we decide to do, we can always begin by being honest with ourselves.
The key question is: Who am I trying to please?
Pleasing others means we meet our external expectations + we don’t let other people down. But someone has to pay the price. And that someone is often you.
May you be always more loyal to your dreams than your fears of letting others down.
Onwards & Upwards