You Can’t Just Do What You Want … Or Can You? Plus A Giveaway

Ever wish you had permission to do what you want, rather than what you’re ‘supposed to’ want? Even if it’s something that seems totally out of character?

You’re a workhorse who wants a week off, or a couch potato who yearns to go backpacking. Or maybe you’re a shy, studious college student who longs to cut loose and sing karaoke at a bar.

Okay, I admit it: that last one was me. I used to think that only really confident people could do karaoke, so I never put my name down even though I wanted to. But one fateful night in 2006, I got tired of being afraid.

With a little help from my friends (and wine) I took the mic and stole the show. And by the show, I mean the DJ’s hat.

Karaoke, do what you want

Do What You Want

Granted, maybe what you want has nothing to do with belting out Nelly Furtado at a Houlihan’s. Maybe you just want to tell the truth about how you’ve been feeling, to stop pretending and say, “I’m so mad right now.”

On the other hand, maybe you want to feel free to be as happy as you actually are, without ‘toning it down’ around an Eeyore-esque friend.

But here’s the problem. Whenever you consider doing that thing or speaking that truth, it feels taboo and kind of scary. That discomfort freaks you out, so you don’t act.

Here, an obvious caveat: we’re not talking about destructive desires to intentionally cause harm. Rather, we’re talking about desires that arise from that clear-eyed place within where love and truth live.

But your truest self’s desires can feel threatening. So instead of listening to them, you distract yourself with Facebook or Cats of Instagram.

No judgment – I do it too. But why are we so scared to want what we want?

Well, sometimes it’s because our truth conflicts with social rules we’ve internalized, such as “You aren’t allowed to feel angry at people you love” or “Never seem happier than your friends.”

These rules feel really powerful, so we back down and let them win. Then we feel guilty that we thought about defying them in the first place.

Old self-concepts hold us back in a similar way. We want to try something new, but then we think, “That doesn’t fit in with my image of myself (or other people’s image of me), so … I can’t do it.”

We think that we must stay the same. So change — however positive — registers as betrayal.

A Leap of Faith

For example, a few months back I told my counselor how scary it feels for me to take occasional breaks from daily disciplines like exercise or writing. This happens even if I’m doing things that I really want to do, such as visiting friends.

Coloring outside the lines of my productive routine seems difficult. I like to think of myself as a faithful, dedicated person, and taking breaks messes with that self-concept.

Then my counselor mused, “You know, it’s a leap of faith to nurture yourself if your default setting is to work harder.”

My jaw dropped; I’d never thought of it that way. That one sentence gave me permission to think differently. From then on, I began reframing certain days away from work as leaps of faith, not laziness.

Leap of Faith, Nurture, Do What You Want

Thank God for people who help us out of our mental boxes when we feel trapped. Thank God for people who counsel us, as Cheryl Strayed does in Tiny Beautiful Things:

Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.

In other words, don’t give up the fun of karaoke for the belief that you’re not confident enough. Instead, have some wine. Steal the DJ’s hat. You have permission.

Sing your heart out, honey, because you want to and because you can.


Tell me, do you need permission to do what you want this year? Leave your answer in the comments.

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Tiny Beautiful Things

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11 thoughts on “You Can’t Just Do What You Want … Or Can You? Plus A Giveaway

  1. Cassie says:

    I want permission to be okay with the quiet this year. A few months ago, I commented on one of your posts and shared that I had just resigned from a six-year-long opportunity and that I didn’t know what was next. I still don’t know what’s next. I am continuing to work at my current job and embracing opportunities for advancement, but there is a huge whole in my life without my previous commitments. There is a lot of free time now, and for the most part, I don’t like it. I am restless and constantly seeking that “next thing.” But as my pastor said yesterday, maybe this is my season to be quiet and reflective before God and wait for His direction on my life. So I will do my best to wait and hopefully learn to enjoy the lack of activity in my life. I might not like it, but in the end, it will probably be good for me.

    • Cassie, I remember your comment and am so glad to hear from you again! Thank you for the update on your brave journey.

      Holding that newly-empty space takes a lot of courage. Way to stay with that uncertainty rather than just filling it up mindlessly. It sounds like you’re finding a new balance of doing and being, and I trust that you’ll step into what’s next when the time is right.

      Meanwhile, I’ll be thinking of you and sending strength your way; keep us posted!
      Caroline McGraw recently posted..You Can’t Just Do What You Want … Or Can You? Plus A Giveaway

  2. Lynne Marie says:

    I am giving myself permission to be a bit selfish. In the past I’ve put others before myself without getting the same from them or any gratitude for it. This year I’m putting myself first in most situations.

    • Lynne, I know what you mean. Earlier this year, I wrote:

      “It’s hard to be “selfish” enough for your own good. I’m quoting my own judgmental inner voice here. Whenever I consider making positive changes on my own behalf, she screeches, “But isn’t that SELFISH?!”

      So many of us – particularly girls and women – have been conditioned to put others first. Over time, it becomes unconscious, automatic. And when we secretly feel depleted and angry, we wonder what’s wrong with us.”

      Your words also remind me of Martha Beck’s paraphrase of the Golden Rule: Never let others do to you what you would never do to others.

      It was a big eye-opener for me to see that I was allowing people to behave toward me in a way that I would never behave toward them, you know?

      Good luck – I look forward to hearing more about your experience!

  3. Terrific post, Caroline! I love those words from your counselor — that is me so much of the time!! — and the Cheryl Strayed quote really speaks to me right now. When I moved back in August and was going through my belongings, I noticed how difficult it was for me to give myself permission to be who I am today and not hold onto who I was 10 years ago.

    So I think that is what I’m giving myself permission to do this year: the things I, now, want to do, even if “Jill 10 years ago” wouldn’t have done them. 🙂 (Interestingly, some of that permission is allowing myself to NOT do what I used to think I had to do.) Thanks for this profound post and Happy New Year!!

    • Jill, I’m thrilled to hear that the post spoke to you! And I definitely relate to your point about giving your present self permission to be different from your past self … I wrestle with that as well.

      Just today I caught myself thinking that I ‘had to’ spend a significant amount of time, money, and energy on an event. But a sense of internal conflict cued me to question that line of thinking.

      The feeling that I ‘had to’ go wasn’t a clear “Hell yes!” but rather a knee-jerk response arising from past assumptions and loyalties.

      When I checked in with my present self. I realized that I wanted to invest those precious resources elsewhere. There was some definite sadness in that realization, but also clarity.

      Happy New Year to you too – can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us!
      Caroline McGraw recently posted..You Can’t Just Do What You Want … Or Can You? Plus A Giveaway

      • That is fascinating, Caroline! Good for you for questioning that knee-jerk initial response — it’s so easy to go on “automatic”. There is definitely a lot of power in checking in with what we really want, in this present moment!

        • Thank you Jill – as you said, it is so easy (and tempting!) to go on automatic. I really appreciate your wisdom and encouragement, both here and on your blog.

          I’m also writing to say congratulations – the random number generator was in your favor, and you’ve won the free copy of Tiny Beautiful Things! I’ll be emailing you with details momentarily. 🙂

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