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What Do You Want?

by Beverly Ryle

What do you want?

If you think it's an easy question to answer, try this: write the words "I want" on successive lines of a legal pad or a piece of ruled notebook paper and make a complete sentence out of each, all the way to the bottom of the page.

How far did you get?

I'm not sure there's a better way to unlock your potential than to be secure in what you know how to do while at the same time looking for ways to broaden your horizons.

There's no need to be concerned if you left a lot of them blank. It's human nature to have trouble even with everyday choices such as what to wear or have for dinner, much less the ones that are life-changing. Sometimes the only "I want" a person in a difficult work situation can come up with is to get out of it as soon as possible. Knowing what you don't want is a valid starting point, but to reclaim your hope for the future you'll need a vision beyond your current circumstances. Anywhere-but-here thinking won't help you break free of the isolating grip of a job-from-hell.

Did you start to write something on your I-want list like, "… to take a watercolor class," and stop because you remembered the art teacher who didn't like your drawing?

Or "… to go to graduate school" and strike it out because you think you'd be the oldest one in the class?

Or "… to do work that feels more meaningful" and then tell yourself it's too late to make a career change.

Were your I-wants vague like, "… to earn more money" (not, "increase my salary by x% in y years"), or "… to reduce stress" (not, "make it a policy not to answer work-related emails after 7 PM"), or "… to feel better about my life" (not, "articulate a dream and define exploratory steps I can take toward realizing it.").

How many items on your list were about taking care of yourself, e.g. to lose weight, eat healthy, get more exercise? Is there a balance between physical priorities and emotional/spiritual ones, such as getting together with friends more often, meditating regularly, etc.?

How about between short-term, practical goals, like painting the living room before the weather gets nice, and longer term ones with deeper meanings, such as finishing that book you've been writing before you kick the bucket!

I recently heard a woman who has played the flute since childhood talk about her lifelong dream of going to a prestigious music school. As she approached middle age she could have decided she was too old to pursue it, but instead she decided at least to see if it was possible, if for no other reason than to save herself from the regret of knowing she gave up without trying. When she was younger, she had set out to master pieces of music that were beyond her abilities, but now, with the wisdom of maturity, she chose audition pieces which better matched her abilities and allowed her spirit to soar. The result was that, at the age of 52, she was accepted at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

More changed here than the music she chose to play. Her I-want shifted away from impressing the judges with her stunning technique, toward expressing who she was through the music. She acted on her strengths and let go of obsessing about her weaknesses.

I'm not sure there's a better way to unlock your potential than to be secure in what you know how to do while at the same time looking for ways to broaden your horizons.

In his essay, "Managing Oneself," Peter Drucker writes, "One can only perform with one's strengths. One cannot build performance on weakness." He goes on to say not to waste time trying to develop those areas where we aren't so competent, which may never get beyond the level of mediocrity, anyway, but to focus our attention on transforming our competencies into star-quality performance.

When we know what we want we put ourselves on a path that makes it possible for us to connect to the right school, company, culture and community service activities.

No potential employer is going to study your resume and figure out where you belong. That's your job and if you get lots of practice doing it when you're employed, you'll be in a great position to claim lots of things on your I-want list when you retire. We tire (instead of retire) only when we don't reinvent ourselves by keeping our I-want list up-to-date and playing to our strengths.

In her professional roles as a career counselor and business consultant, Beverly Ryle has been helping corporate professionals, business owners, and people-in-transition achieve their full potential through education and empowerment for over twenty-five years.

Her ability to guide clients through a professional development process is built upon expertise in transition, communications, negotiations, Gestalt training and long-term experience as the only recovering person in a dysfunctional family.

Her integration of business, counseling and spiritual disciplines has made her a vital resource for clients seeking to grow professionally by overcoming habitual patterns in order to claim greater authenticity in their work and interpersonal relationships.

In her first book, Ground of Your Own Choosing: Winning Strategies for Finding & Creating Work, she focused on ways of achieving self-leadership in your professional life.

In her second book, Standing Alone (now under development), she turns her attention to helping people enhance their potential for leadership within the context of family dysfunction, including rampant, multi-generational addiction and mental illness.

Standing Alone is a collection of memoirs and short essays in which she tells both her own personal story and the more universal story of the possibility of renewal and joy whatever your life circumstances.

She will launch a website to preview the book before it is published (and to honor her 70th birthday) in mid-November.

Her blog can be found at She welcomes comments or questions on the site or by direct email to