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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Frazier Timpson

The Importance of Knowing What You Don't Want

Everything good in my life is a result of infinite grace and the kind of wisdom you can only get from screwing stuff up the first time or two.

If my first marriage hadn't sucked, this one wouldn't be so awesome. The trick is to learn, not only what went wrong, but why. We make a big deal out of trying to figure out what we want in life. We start out early asking kids what they want to be when they grow up and lay it on really thick around high school with all the "What are going to do after graduation? Where are you going to college? What are you going to major in?". Most of the time, these early plans don't pan out for two reasons:

1. You didn't have enough experience to understand everything the plan entailed.

2. You didn't give equal consideration to what you don't want.

Number one is obvious. I want to talk about number two.

Having an idea of what you want is super, if you're flexible. You may get it and see it's totally different than you expected. You may discover a million really great things you didn't even know you wanted along the way. What you want is usually a very fluid concept you tweak a little as you go along.

What you don't want is probably not going to change much. I went into my last job knowing exactly what I wanted: A steady full-time job that offered benefits (in spite of all my pre-existing conditions, thanks Obama) so I could finally emancipate myself from Social Security Disability. I grew up thinking I could get a job, really dig in, learn everything and work there for the rest of my life. I thought there would be room for advancement, and I would be compensated according to my value as an employee. I knew I was valuable. I believed these things so deeply that finding out they weren't true shook me to my core...something akin to definitive proof that there is no God.

I had to suck it up and regroup, searching out all the happy accidents and bits of wisdom I'd gathered in my time there, not the least of which was a sturdy list of things I'd learned I couldn't live with in my next employment like blatant, raging sexism and condescension, or a boss who sometimes seemed to bully his staff out of sheer boredom. I have a lot more confidence going into this job search (and every aspect of my life, really) knowing I can make a more informed decision about the situation in which I spend most of my waking hours.

The moral of this story is: don't stress about figuring out exactly what you want. Be realistic about the things you just can't put up with. We're often told we can't change other people, and that's super true, but there's also only so much we can change about ourselves. That's not an excuse for bad behavior. As in "I'm a jerk. It's just who I am, and I can't change". I was thinking more like "I used to think I would be ok with a boyfriend who bites his toenails (or is a different religion than me, or has different social convictions than me, etc.) but now I know I can't".

What makes me happy has evolved, but it was leaning what makes me miserable that actually brought me happiness.


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