Wants vs. Needs (or, the fine art of letting go)

wants vs. needs - or the fine art of letting go

It’s relatively easy to focus in on the things we want in life. The things that our hearts, minds, and souls pull us towards despite all logic and better judgement – both for the good and the bad. The things in life we need, though, they reside in another category entirely. Quite often the things we need are exactly what we fight against the hardest, build up resistance towards, deny and overlook. It’s hard to focus in on the truly essential things to pursue in life as the things we want tend to overwhelm us, like a kid in a candy store with wide eyes but only a few shiny coins to spend.

I’ve often confused the two myself.  No judgement intended if you’ve done the same, it’s really hard to separate our desires from our needs at the end of the day.

Personally speaking, the last few years have put a lot of my true needs outside of my control – mostly physical healing, paying overdue debts my body signed up for long ago before I had a developed sense of longevity and karma. What I want is to feel physically whole again after being broken so badly.  To not have that nagging voice inside my head doubting my sense of well-being. To not have the rug pulled out from underneath me again when a body that’s been pushed to nearly every boundary within reason and line of sight decides it’s finally had enough.

Although I can honestly say I’m making more sound and healthy choices with my physical self, it only comes after decades of capitalizing on natural skill and luck. Karma can be an unforgivingly cruel mistress in this respect. My knee held out almost 20 years after it’s injury before finally giving out. My resilience suffered a huge mental loss when after years of seemingly death-defying feats of physicality, my luck finally ran out and I ventured too closely to the boundaries of my own mortality.  And most recently, cancer came a knockin’ and both forced me to question both my mortality and masculinity in a brutally humbling (and embarrassing) manner.

What I want is to be whole and strong again. But what I need is to be patient as that foundation builds back up again, if it ever does. It’s so difficult to be patient with physical recovery after almost three years of it, and the brutal setbacks that have arisen along the way when I’ve become impatient. But being patient with myself is what I need. I can accept now that I’ll never get what I want until I face that – the universe doesn’t always let us choose when we get to move on. Sometimes we just have to put in the time first.

I write this to let go of the impatience in my recovery, and my need to be the man I was four years ago. I write this to accept that the man I was died on the ER table, and I’m a different person entirely now, as much as I sometimes wish it weren’t so.

Emotional needs are proving the hardest to accept, when viewed in the light of the things we want.

We all want to be loved, to be held, to be treated like royalty.  We look for this in the eyes of those who show flashes of it, and it’s so easy to project our desires onto that promise of hope.  But we all truly die alone.  We all face our own demons alone, and at the end of the day can only take support, not assistance in that effort.

There is no moment in my life I’ll recall with such pain as the look of horror and loss in my ex-wife’s eyes as I lost consciousness in Cottage Hospital for the last time before my heart stopped beating. She quite literally watched me die, and I felt us both torn apart. My last thoughts were of equal horror – that I was now journeying forward into the unknown alone, she’d not be able to follow me. Waking up again days later after flatlining gave me false hope that the moment was just an impression, a passing scare. But we never recovered from the emotional breakage.

I’ve ached in the years that followed than to have a partner back by my side, making me feel like the king I was beforehand, who I could worship as a queen in kind. But what was had been ripped apart into separate, isolated entities that day in the hospital. I became entirely self-reliant despite my longing for partnership and what had been was no more.

I can’t deny that I’ve longed for that connection again. But healing my emotional scars have proven to be even trickier than the physical ones. As close as I’ve tried to get to another woman, I still fought fear that I’d let her down the way I’d already done my former life partner. I tried to honor independence and space, but ultimately that’s all I manifested from it. Telling someone else you love them is so hard when you’ve seen the connection of a soulmate break in front of you while your mortal coil slips away.  I can’t describe how heart-wrenching, emasculating, and damaging that moment can be for a person, a man, just face that it takes more time and patience than I’d have ever expected.  I’m reminded of that daily.  Hourly.

What I need is to move past all that. I need to have the patience to accept that I’ll find someone who’s patient enough to understand that and still stick with me. I can’t make it happen however, I can’t force it into being.  But I know that if I try to again with someone who doesn’t understand and support it, I’ll break my scars open even further. And I truly don’t want that, even if I do want them more than anything else.

I write this to acknowledge that I’m still worth the effort to someone, worth their patience and love as well. The person I need will understand this and meet me in the middle, and not lose patience in me the way I so easily do.  They’ll help me understand this.  But I’m starting to feel that’s also a connection or partnership I’ll not find again in this lifetime.

I want to be successful at what I love doing.  However, I need to be happy at it, too. I love technology, music, UX design, teaching and art in general, and need them all as part of my life- but I need to be using more of my creative brain and less of my analytical brain in my career. I’ve found that after a wildly successful career in software, making a shitload of money will never fill the hole that is left in a creative person when you aren’t able to express yourself freely. Using mostly my left-brain left me feeling like I was selling myself for others’ benefit a bit more than I’m comfortable with. Although I feel that continuing my career in tech would have been financially prudent and wildly successful, I’m so much happier switching back to to education and music again. It fulfills my creative and social needs far more directly. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be truly balanced and whole on that level- as despite playing music throughout my life, the 15 years I spent in software demanded and required my full attention, so even ‘part-timing’ my creative brain just was never good enough. I always felt slightly decharged, unfulfilled.

That said, living exclusively as a creative is a harder life than I’m used to. It requires a different type of hustle than I’m used to. And adjusting my personal habits after so long is difficult. I feel that I’m making the switch well, but there was a certain degree of entitlement and style of life that I enjoyed that’s hard to kick- like a heroin jones you just can’t put aside. Even though my income hasn’t suffered at all during the switch (which is a pleasant surprise), my expenses have. Selling my house helps bring more in than I was sending out, but I now need to think a bit more long-term, prepare for the future much more than ever before.

I acknowledge that life now is going to be different. It requires a different kind of fearlessness that I’m not as used to. And although I want to be as comfortable as I was in my pampered, overpaid software life, I need to be healthy, balanced and creatively fulfilled. And I fully acknowledge that this is a tradeoff I cannot allow myself to backslide upon. As hard as life’s been the last few years, I’m not sure I’d trade it for the world.

Looking back through my ‘past life’, it’s hard to not feel blessed and lucky. It’s even harder to realize that much of it was handed to me due to good fortune and innate skill, yet I still took much of it for granted. It quite literally took disaster and a death/rebirth to show me how much I did so. To come from my humble, lower-middle-class beginnings and literally pull myself up to where I was by my own bootstraps was hard, almost impossible – yet once I reached a certain level of success I forgot what it was to work hard to move further, and rested on my laurels and unnaturally good fortune. I sacrificed my health and well-being over this assumed good fortune, and literally killed myself with hubris and a misplaced sense of immortality.  It’s what I wanted. But I need to accept that this well of good fortune has a bottom, and no human should be able to capitalize on it forever.

I acknowledge that although I long for the emotional and physical good fortune of my prior life, I may also have used up my luck now. I may have to accept that whatever comes next isn’t going to be an easy life, let alone with a partner who truly understands me. It’s going to be an uphill fight, but worth it. It’s going to be something two people want to fight for – not just me.  That’s a huge order to ask for.  It may not get filled. I need to just accept that.

And this need is probably the hardest to swallow. When you’ve truly led a charmed life, it’s so hard to accept that your luck can actually run out.  That karma can come back like a guillotine and you’re now on a level playing field with a cruel world that once slipped off your back like water off a duck. It’s the root of my anxiety and self-consciousness today.

But such is life.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  It’s life.

So I’m just going to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and cherishing every breath I take.  Each one is more than I should have been given.  And I guess at the end of the day, I need to be thankful for that and accept whatever comes next.