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October 29, 2016

How we Win when we Don’t get what we Want.

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I am very familiar with the feelings that arise from an unfilled wish or desire that emanates from deeply within the heart.

It can feel painstakingly frustrating, frightening, lonely, and even heartbreaking. Sometimes, we feel dismissed and forgotten, wanting to give up on our dreams, falling into despair.

However, I believe that when life holds a door closed, as easy as giving up might seem, we stand to gain more than our expectations may present.

If life were as simple as a check list, albeit perhaps, an easier road to travel, we potentially forego opportunities and challenges that stretch and build our character. How would we grow if life were to continuously hand us everything we desire? I believe life, and our purpose in it, has much greater meaning than this.

Since I was a young child, I dreamed of having a family of my own. Aside from my dreams of becoming a successful doctor, I dreamed of marriage to a successful husband, being a successful mother, and raising our successful children.

I worked diligently to pursue this dream, matriculating at the University of California at Berkeley for my undergraduate studies, and New York University where I received a master’s in Social Work. I believed, like many other young adults might, that I was on track to make all of my childhood dreams come true.

I played by the rules: I studied hard, I treated people lovingly and kindly, I served disabled and disenfranchised children and adults—volunteering copious amounts of hours since I was 13 years old. And even in moments of strife and conflict, I assumed the high-road position.

But what I see clearly now is that I had envisioned an unrealistic and outrageous belief—that if I made all the right choices in life and stayed on course, then all of my dreams would unfold perfectly and in a timely manner, including my desires for my own family.

So, quite naturally, after hanging up my degrees on the wall, I fully believed and anticipated that it was now time for my lifelong partner to enter into my life. Believing that marriage and family was a rite of passage afforded to anyone who desired it, I presumed my loving husband would show up at any moment.

But, I waited, and I waited and I waited. I waited and lamented for months and years. I waited through many tears of sadness, loneliness, despair, and frustration. I cried, pleaded, demanded, bargained, and even cursed the universe for my waiting.

In spite of countless dates and several fleeting relationships, I continue, still, to wait. However, through my waiting and previous moments of despair, my heart has expanded and matured in ways that it might not have otherwise, had life presented my husband to me in a perfectly wrapped package years ago.

Here are some of the things I have gained, and I believe we may all gain, from not getting what we want:

  1. We become more gracious and humble. Whether we need it or not, when we don’t get what we want and languish and lament at the absence of our desires, we get a slice of humble pie.
  1. We learn to cultivate peace and acceptance by managing to live happily without our desire. Our wishes are not always guaranteed to us, particularly at the exact time we want them to be. When we don’t get what we want we have the choice to either be happy or to suffer in sadness. We can choose to be happy, at all costs, and explore new things that might bring us equal joy and fulfillment.
  1. We grow in empathy and compassion toward others. Not getting what I wanted helped me to further understand and empathize with others who also suffered from disappointment. Whether it’s a desire for a new job, a relationship, a child, or a business deal—when we feel denied of our desires it can engender extreme sadness within us. Though it can feel as if something is gravely missing from our lives, when we have experienced this emptiness ourselves, we become better equipped to lend our support and compassion to those going through similar experiences.
  1. Strength and power are gained. Sometimes, when we don’t get what we want, we grow in strength. In times of hardship and disappointment, our inner-resolve is often tested, and when we persevere, we discover and utilize an internal strength and resilience that might otherwise remain dormant.
  1. Our hearts may grow in gratitude. When we choose happiness as our ultimate experience, we foster appreciation and gratitude. We understand that there is greater peace and joy when we focus on what we have rather than on what’s missing or lacking in our lives. Gratitude is the pathway to happiness. As we cultivate its simple yet powerful practice, our hearts expand and we may develop a more buoyant and graceful experience in life.
  1. We have an opportunity to achieve greater self-love. In the absence of our deep desires, our lives and our hearts may experience a painful void, one so deep that we perceive that it can only be filled by our coveted wish. Yet while we wait, we have opportunities to explore loving ourselves unconditionally and filling up the spaces within our hearts with the internal love, compassion, and acceptance that we often seek from our external desires. As we fill our heartfelt voids, we become more whole and complete—affiliating with a more grounded perspective in which to welcome other desires.

Although we may not always get what we want, I believe an have experienced, that if we search within our hearts, we’ll find that we get exactly what we need. And through our waiting and growing, we may discover that our desires have changed, or perhaps, aren’t best for us after all. Rather than considering our time of waiting and disappointment as some type of suffering and punishment, we can focus on all the beautiful virtues we gain during hardship.

Life is constant preparation, so often our waiting period is equipping us with better tools and virtues in order for us to fully receive and appreciate our desire whenever it comes to fruition. I am grateful, and proud, in spite of my wait, for the power, inner-peace, love, compassion, and fulfillment that I have discovered while waiting.

So, whatever is it that we really want to feel, whatever experiences of the heart that stir us and allow us greater peace and fulfillment—when we close our eyes in meditation—may we release our need for people and things to provide those feelings, but rather, to draw on life’s infinite virtues. When we seek and obtain solid virtues, we possess the inner-strength and tools to carry us, no matter what comes, or doesn’t, into our lives. We might not always get what we want, when we want it, but we’ll always gain the experiences and the values that we need.

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” ~ Dalai Lama 

 

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Author: Angela N. Holton

Image: Flickr/Andrew Magill

Editor: Travis May

 

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Angela N. Holton