Am I Doing what I Really, Really, Want to Do?

Published on February 25, 2013

Am I doing we I really, really want to do


With clients who are dissatisfied with their lives and feel it is “all meaningless”, I have found it useful to ask “Are you doing what you really, really, want to do?” Initially many clients are a bit stunned by this question but then after a moment of reflection many reply “Absolutely not!”

This question has different meanings at each stage of our life span. By reflecting on the answer to this question, clients think about whether they are taking the right educational path or having the right job or profession. Others have in mind whether they are actualizing their creative or artistic abilities.

Another frequent concern is wondering if they want to stay in their present intimate relationship, or to seek a new partner. Childless women may be worrying about getting pregnant before it is too late. Those who have recently retired ask this question with a sense of poignancy not felt before as they feel their life-clock winding down.

So we can see this is a very common concern across the life span. Yet we seldom take the time to ask ourselves this question perhaps because it is not an easy task to examine our hearts and minds at a deeper level, and then use this information to change our lives. The purpose of this post is to describe the benefits that can come from routinely asking ourselves this question so that we will be more motivated to do so.


What are the benefits of routinely asking ourselves this question?

There are number of important benefits to routinely taking time to reflect on our lives by asking this question:

Increases our level of happiness

blissful happiness

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. ~ Aristotle

If we never take time to reflect on whether we are doing what we truly want to do, we well may go through life unhappy because our needs and wants are unfulfilled. We are likely to feel depressed and complain about how miserable our lives are, often making the lives of our loved ones less happy also.

However we cannot seek happiness directly. Author Mary Pipher describes how early in her career as a psychologist she asked her grandmother “Grandmother, have you had a happy life?” and her grandmother replied rather testily “Mary, I don’t think of my life that way. I ask, ‘have I made good use of my time and my talents? Is the world a better place because I have been here?’

Help us to self-actualize

Very simply, if we don’t take notice of our needs, wants, motivations, and objectives, our lives can slip by without ever attaining them. If that happens to us we will feel not only sad but feel cheated out of a meaningful life.

Our very souls cry out for self-actualization. “I saw the world at that time as divided into brilliant, interesting people with great gifts and common people like me with great aspirations but no gifts.” That is how Mary Pipher described herself before she self-actualized by writing her many widely read books such as “Reviving Ophelia” and “Writing to Change the World”.


We feel and are more in control of our lives

If we don’t take time to reflect on this question, we will go through life living reactively i.e. just reacting to the forces and stimuli around us instead of using our tremendous creative ability to imagine and actualize something better for us and others. Modern psychology refers to the former way of living as “bottom up” living while the latter way is “top down” living. Only top down living puts you in charge of your life. Asking this question will also help us to accept with equanimity what we cannot change and change the things we can.


Find out what career path to follow

Choosing a career is more important, and more demanding, than most of us realize or understand. The career we choose will occupy our time for at at least 8 hours per day and usually much more for the rest of our lives. Our jobs can influence our self-esteem, our self-valuing. Hence our careers are intimately linked to how we are caring for our deepest aspect of ourselves, our very souls! It is no trivial matter to choose our career.


A good way to get out of a rut

rutMany people get stuck in trying to attain some childhood dream that is maladaptive or unattainable e.g. trying to be a success in the same profession as their father or mother although you don’t really like it. Or you may remain locked in a job because it pays you extraordinarily well. Many clients in the corporate or financial world tell me of being paralyzed by this dilemma. Asking this question over and over again can help you liberate yourself from such painful ruts. And remember, a rut has been defined as a grave with open ends.


Reaching closure on this question eliminates our tendency to complain about our life situation

If you have asked this question, weighted the pros and cons of change and consciously decided not to take action, then the only logical thing to do is accept and live with your decision. So it removes the excuse for complaining about things as they are right now, after all it is your choice. In other words asking this question forces you to do something to change your life in a positive new direction or accept deeply your decision to stay with the status quo and to do so with acceptance, equanimity, and even gratitude.


We not only make ourselves happier but we also make the lives of those around us happier

Sometimes when we become dissatisfied with our lives, we get stuck in depression, anger and frustration but blame the whole world around us for our unhappiness, especially those closest and dearest to us. Blaming others is a way of avoiding our own responsibility of taking action to improve our situation, but it does not remove our basic unhappiness.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to keep our negative emotions to ourselves. Either purposefully or unconsciously, we have a negative influence on those around us through irritability, anger outbursts, and oppositional behavior to the requests of our spouses, children, friends and work colleagues. We become black clouds hovering over and raining on the rest of the world. Even worse, sometimes these are not passing clouds but permanent. It  is often underestimated how much career and job dissatisfaction results in chronic unhappiness and even clinical depression.


Concluding remarks

"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~ Socrates

A very important way to examine our lives is to routinely ask “Am I doing what I really, really, want to do?” and reflect on the answer. Remember that it takes time to carry out such reflection and courage and wisdom to act on the answers. Go slowly and remind yourself of the many benefits of doing so. We not only improve our own lives but indirectly make the world a better place for others. Otherwise, as Thoreau so aptly put it, “We can spend our whole lives fishing only to discover in the end it wasn’t fish we were after.”


Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Career Development and Change, Depression, Emptiness, Happiness

Written by:

Brian Scott

Dr. Scott is a clinical psychologist based in Singapore with three decades of counseling and psychotherapy experience in helping adults with many kinds of psychological difficulties. These include anxiety, depression, addictions (cybersex, love), and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD).

Brian Scott belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore