Perhaps it is the Perfect Storm like convergence of life events in the last month (moving into a new home, major script deadlines, New Year’s, and my 40th Birthday – whew!) but I have begun to notice a particular phrase popping up in my vocabulary with alarming frequency. “I want.” As in: I want more flowers in the garden, I want to finish my novel this year, I want to find the perfect media cabinet, I want to go on a vacation, I want to sell a spec, I want to get a movie made, I want to win an award for said movie, I want to win a lot of awards, I want to write more poetry, I want to read more poetry, I want to eat healthier and exercise more, I want to dye my hair back blonde, I want to add to my family, I want to find some place to volunteer, I want to make the most of every day, but I don’t want to have to work too hard, I want to look great, I want to feel great, I want to be great!
Do you see what I mean? None of those desires is necessarily a bad thing on it’s own, but lately I am beginning to believe that wants are like Gremlins – they tend to multiply until they have completely taken over your life. And the more you feed them, the harder they are to kill. Which is why all of this “wanting” is getting exhausting. It has me focused on the wrong things – making me fixate on what I don’t have instead of allowing me to enjoy what I do.
As a lover of words, I will admit that I have an etymology page bookmarked on my computer for easy access. And so I looked up the origins of the word “want” and what I discovered chilled me to the core. It comes from an Old Norse word vant, which means “to be deficient” or “to be lacking”. The Old English word wanian evolved from there and it means, “to diminish”. After discovering the origins of the word, it makes so much sense why all of the wanting I have been doing has taken a toll on me. It automatically puts me in a negative frame of mind!
Wanting diminishes the amazing things and people in our lives already all around us. It diminishes our very selves by making us feel that we must search outside of ourselves for happiness and fulfillment. When we focus our attention on all the things we want, it puts us in a state of lack and skews our perspective. Suddenly we find ourselves on a metaphysical hamster wheel, running to fill our perceived “deficiencies” only to discover a new want right behind the old one… and so we just keep spinning.
With that in mind, I decided that in this New Year: I want to stop wanting. I am going to start by just a simple shift in the words I speak. I will treat “want” like a four letter word and do my best to cut it out of my lexicon. Instead of saying, “I want to finish my novel this year” I am going to say, “I will finish my novel this year.” In exchange for declaring, “I want to sell a new spec this year” I intend to declare the more positive version, “I hope to sell a new spec this year.”
Interestingly enough, the word “hope” derives from Old English word hopian which means to "wish, expect, look forward (to something).” See how much better it feels to come from a place of looking forward to something, rather than feeling like you’re not enough and that you’ll never have enough? Some scholars even make the connection to the verb hop suggesting that hope originally meant, “leaping in expectation.” Don’t you love that? It implies movement, a positive action towards something. So out with the passive wanting and in with the hopeful leaping for me!
I wrote a poem a few years ago about this very point…obviously it is something I have struggled with for sometime. It is an ongoing battle, but a worthy one, and so I keep up the good fight. Reading this is always a good reminder of the ideal, and I hope it inspires you similarly.
take my many wants
balled tightly in my fist
pry each finger loose
and shake them out
like cold ashes
leave me empty-handed
that I might grasp
what is true