sometimes we fail to get the correct answer because we keep asking the wrong question. growing up, i was an uber planner. well, more like a perfectionist. i was a classic perfectionist. i performed for people because i wanted them to approve of me. i wanted their validation. i did more than what was required. i worked harder than everyone else. i produced results that got recognition. and i punished myself when i failed to live up to my expectations, which far exceeded others’ expectations of me. i don’t have to tell you how unsustainable that was. you’re probably already imagining the disaster on the horizon.
yep, i crashed and burned. my freshman year in college was hard. i was still smart. i was still an overachiever. i was still producing results that got recognition. but where i once felt validated by the results of my perfectionism, i started feeling exhausted and resentful. i hated that i had to perform all the time. i didn’t like that people expected so much of me because i had taught them to do it. and honestly, i would get upset when i did work hard and it wasn’t recognized. my self-worth was tied to my performance. if my performance didn’t measure up, what did that mean for my value to others?
we ascribe a lot of value to how others see and perceive us. women are particularly prone to this because we are conditioned to be judged from birth based on appearance. our looks, size, hair, skin tone, fashion sense, sex appeal, and wifely qualities can become defining characteristics that shape how we navigate life. likability and desirability become more important than purpose and passion. we start altering our behaviors and personalities to fit what is celebrated, choosing to adopt watered-down versions of ourselves so we are accepted.
i can’t tell you all the things that led to me breaking free from my need to be perfect. some days, i still find its remnants creeping up from the depths, trying to overthrow reason and reclaim its throne. but i can thank my mom – a special ed teacher – for helping me to frame myself in a more forgiving and compassionate way.
when i was younger, she would ask me questions to help me identify what i wanted versus what i thought others wanted from me. i remember telling her about something i was going to do and kept asking what she thought of it. her response was repeatedly redirected to me, forcing me to think about what i thought of it. that simple practice of helping me to ask the right question was a life-changing skill i rely on to this day.
“what do i want in life?” we’re taught to ask that question. i’m a single woman. any time i mention that i have a desire to marry, people start asking me what do you want in a man? for many years i would answer with the things i wanted. we all have a list right? i refined my list over the years but i always have it on deck.
one day something shifted for me. i went from spending time praying over my list of what i wanted and decided to ask god what i actually needed. here’s the thing, what we want doesn’t always align with what we need. i was asking the wrong question. it wasn’t just in the area of love, either. we are taught to focus on what we want all the time. we do it with the big questions like what kind of life do you want? what do you want in your relationships? and we do it with the mundane things like what do you want to eat? what do you want to wear? what do you want in a job? what do you want in a house? we’re accustomed to focusing on what we want. we rarely ask what we need.
as a person who grew up in poverty, having my basic needs met was a regular struggle. but i was cultured to be a consumer just like most of you. i learned to move beyond what i needed, which was always the bare minimum, to focus on what i wanted. i’m not saying this is necessarily bad. it’s just that what we want tends to be far more elaborate. it’s based on what we think we deserve, what we feel we’ve earned. what we see others have. but because we live in such a consumer-heavy culture, our wants are usually divorced from the reality of who we are and what it takes to be that person.
when you think about who you are to your core, the you that shines through without the production, the costume, the makeup, the script, the set; what does that version of you need? if you are at all like me, you might soon realize that you aren’t always aware of what you need. i’ve written before about my realization that i needed people. that was revelational for me because i’ve never enjoyed having to rely or depend on others. again, i grew up poor, so figuring out how to make things happen for myself was a matter of survival. relying on people who couldn’t even save themselves was an epic fail. so, i learned how to not need to do it. but no matter how badly i want it to be true, i’m not superhuman. i have to daily resist the urge to rock my cape and flash my super strength. i can’t do it all or be it all. i need people.
in this season in my life, i’ve had to rely heavily on people. i’ve needed them to see me. i’ve needed their strength. i’ve needed their advice. i’ve needed them to call forth things in me that have been dormant. i’ve needed them to challenge me. i’ve needed them to push me to grow. i’ve needed them to just be there. this was not something on my “want” list. this was a matter of need. and because i was so out of tune with what i needed, i didn’t realize what was missing.
how many things are we missing because we’re focused on what we want, while ignoring what we need? learning to ask the right question might possibly change your life. we don’t know what the future holds. we don’t have all the answers. as a matter of faith, i believe i have direct access to the one who does. so when i check in daily with him, my desire is to learn what i need to be who i was called to be. the more i’ve lived into that, the more my wants have changed.
if things are feeling out of wack in your life, maybe it’s time you start asking a different question. maybe it’s time to get connected to your needs so you can be the person you were created to be. my guess is that person is someone the world needs to know.