the quiet desperation of need

painting by tastesorangey - via papernstitch - click image for more info

While I often wax poetic about defining what you want and then acting on your desires, it’s not so much what you want but what you need that will propel you into a life lived outside the box.

When we “want” something, it can almost feel dirty, shameful. Who are we to want more than what we have?

Needs are more difficult to question. Shelter, food, clean air, pure relationships – who are we to argue with our own needs?

They didn’t teach this in school…

After college, I worked for a national bookstore chain. I worked my way up from barista to Sales Manager in less than a year. I went from making $6.50 per hour to making $28,000 per year. Even though it wasn’t enough to reach my goals or feel comfortable on my own, it was more money than I’d ever had in my life.

For that $28,000, I worked 50-60 hours per week at all hours of the day and night. I managed events, merchandising, local book sales, and a cafe for $5 million dollar per year business.

Shortly after my promotion and after I had bought my first new car, a cherry red, 5-speed 2005 Ford Focus that I still drive, I had a conversation with my co-manager about money.

“I feel like I should be making more money,” I said.

As the words left my mouth, I felt so much shame. I had so much more than the people who worked for me. I had my parents’ roof over my head and a car to drive. I had new clothes and lots of sweet milky coffee drinks.

I thought I wanted more money. And wanting money is “not okay.”

Before Lola was born, I searched for new jobs. I chased after what it was that I desired. I focused on getting what I wanted and acted with loud, shrieky desperation. Everything I wanted was always just out of my grasp.

I didn’t recognize the significance of my own needs. And so I wasn’t able to meet them.

But I didn’t want more money. I needed more money. On that salary, I couldn’t afford my car, a reasonable food and entertainment budget, and a home to call my own. Not only that but I needed more freedom, more autonomy, and a better creative outlet.

Changing that thinking took another 4 years and it required a fundamental change in understanding what I needed for my life. I needed to be in charge of my life and in control of the way I lived in the world. I needed a platform to share my ideas and time to generate new ones. I needed the time to build a relationship and the resources to have a family.

After Lola was born, what I needed was a way to stay home with her. What I needed was an outlet for the creativity that I was rediscovering. What I needed was a career that let me reach my full potential. I felt that need with the same longing I have for clean air and good food.

I moved ahead with the quiet desperation that turns ideas into action.

Instead of chasing after those desires, I acted on my real needs.

No longer was there room to doubt my motivations or feel shame for wanting more than I had, my needs were real and valid.

If you have difficulty defining what you want life to look like, consider what it is you really need. Alexis Neely asks you to consider just how much money you need. Danielle LaPorte asks you the same (via Kelly).

Of course there is so much more to need than money. There is love, freedom, joy, and making.

Your needs will take different forms at different stages of your life. In ten years, I may not need the money I need now or need the amount of technology I now possess. In twenty years, I may need to travel. In thirty years, I may need to sit in meditation and contemplate a new direction.

Just because your needs change and evolve does not negate their importance.

Take a minute today to consider your goals. Consider what your life looks like when all of your needs are fulfilled. Visualize the relationships you will have, the career you will pursue, or the causes you will support.

Do you feel shame in wanting those things?

Or can you allow yourself to accept your own needs as truth?

And then proceed with action.

27 thoughts on “the quiet desperation of need

  1. Well said Tara. I definitely don’t feel shame in wanting more money, freedom, happiness, etc. I recently left a comfortable well paying day job in order to obtain freedom, happiness, and find a purpose and passion in life through my small business.

    By doing this, I learned that I needed more than just money…but that doesn’t negate the fact that I want my own business to be successful and provide the money I need.

    You are right that at different times in life you need different things. After college I just needed money, 7 years later I was in a job that provided no stress and lots of money and I realized that wasn’t enough for me.

  2. Tara – your writing is so incredible – I think you need to get published. Then you can go back to that bookstore chain, pull your book off the shelf with a nice frothy drink & sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

  3. I love the way you describe this “quiet desperation” as a positive force. I’ve never thought of desperation as a good thing, but I can see how it can be a powerful motivator. Especially when it’s not a shrieky desperation, but rather a force that propels you forward…
    Love this. Thanks.

  4. Wow that is a lot to think about! I’m a SAHM and often I don’t spend enough time considering what my real “needs” are or put them in the category of food & air – like time to be alone and think about the next steps for moving my (very) small business forward, other than the five minutes in the shower :) or uninterupted time to focus on my photography. It totally changes the dynamic of the conversation I have with myself (and the hubs).

  5. This is a shift in thinking I’ve recently achieved. I used to think that my creative desires were mere “wants”… that my desire to do work I found fulfilling and to connect with others in conjunction with creativity were just things that would be nice in my life. Maybe I craved them, maybe I enjoyed these things, but real adults focused on what was REALLY important– stuff like stability and feeding/housing/clothing my family.

    That mindset left me feeling miserable, depressed, and codependent. It wasn’t until I started recognizing these things as valid NEEDS and gave myself permission to make them a priority… well, my life isn’t perfect, but man am I a much happier woman, wife, and mother. I really think that depression runs rampant among creative types because too many of us don’t make this shift soon enough (if ever).

  6. Great points. It is also highlighting, for me, the need to define what I need! I’ve been to passive in my decisions – letting what comes at me be the determing factor. It’s time to sit down and really carve out what I want back from the opportunities that have found me. No wait, carve out what I need!

  7. Growing up, I was taught that anything beyond the basics (food, water, etc) was a ‘want’, and that it was okay to want but you had to be *realistic*. A career in the arts? Not realistic, just a pipe dream. A job that I enjoyed? SO not realistic – everyone hates their job, just suck it up and DEAL, Jenny!

    Thank heavens things in our culture are changing. I’m so grateful for conversations like this that shed a little light on the need to not be a martyr, the need to live a more fulfilled life, the need to recognize the truth of who we are.

    I am a mad passionate gardener, and right now my soul is starving for dirt. I mean, really and truly starving. Those who suggest potted plants mean well but don’t get that it’s my relationship with the soil, the microlife, the wildlife, the plants, the garden as a whole, that matters. I’ve been feeling guilty and slightly shameful for feeling this need – what’s wrong with me that the clean, safe, second-floor apartment I live in right now isn’t enough?

    And my lifelong enemy – depression – has been gaining too much ground lately. I think that Shauntelle (above) depressions runs rampant because too many of us don’t recognize our needs and make them a priority.

    I really needed this article, Tara, thank you!

  8. Whoops, sorry – the second-to-last sentence should have read, “I think that Shauntelle (above) *makes a good point when she says* depression runs rampant because too many of us don’t recognize our needs and make them a priority.”


  9. In fact this article has me torn. On the one hand if you look back to your ancestors who lived through the Great Depression or the many wars, droughts, and famines in the world then much of our so called needs really are just desires. On the other hand that was then and this is now and most people reading this article will not relate much to the desperate situations of the past (that still abound, however, in much of the so-called non-developed world) and so rightly should reconsider spending one’s life going without for no other reason than merely because of a philosophy of lack that permeates society.

    Take this further, then. I need customers who value art and are willing to pay a price for it that is fair to the artist. As Jenny needs to garden to keep her soul intact, I need to create, someone else may need to study Active Galactic Nuclei, and yet another person really, really needs to nurture young children. We are all different but we are alike in one thing at least; we NEED whatever it is that fulfills us beyond merely that which helps the body merely survive.

    PS: I am caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimers and I really need sleep and rejuvenation and maybe a little validation as an artist. Lately I have been defining myself as family primary caregiver instead of as artist. I’m sure this isn’t really very good.

    1. I had the same feeling of being torn, but after consideration this is what I came up with:

      If the “needs” we’re talking about are simply what we need to survive, then no, I guess I don’t need creative space, I don’t need a job that I love, etc.

      However, if the “needs” we’re talking about are what we need to THRIVE, then yes, I do need those things. I can live, in the strictest sense of the word, without creative outlets. But I won’t be happy, fulfilled, or sane.

      As you said, things are vastly different now than they were for former generations. My survival is pretty much a given. Why should I not reach for those things I need in order to thrive? Especially when, by doing so, I put myself in a place where I can help and encourage others as well. Right?

  10. I just bought the book Money by Liz Perle. It basically is about the relationship women have with money. So fitting that you write this now, only a day or two after I began reading about the same idea. Great post, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  12. I loved to find this post in my email box this morning, thanks Tara.
    For the last 10 years I have been bringing up my two daughters alone, so effectively have been focussing exclusively on the things we need, and I consider myself lucky I can get most of those…
    I am also lucky because I am a freelancer working from home which, as anyone doing the same thing would know, has its pros and cons. Cons being that before you know it you realise you have been working 12/13 hours a day for a 6 days week, and even so you just about earn enough…. I like my job but it does drain my energy and increasingly I have been feeling the need to do something more creative.
    But when I am not working/earning I immediately feel ‘guilty’, as if whatever involves my creativity was not worth pursuing because, effectively, it does not pay the bills.
    Whether through our upbringing or through the pressures of society – or a mix of both – we have been led to feel guilty about doing what brings us joy and pleasure which, if you think about it, is totally crazy.
    Meditation has helped me see things from a different perspective, from ‘outside myself’ as it were, and made me start working toward accepting that being happy and fulfilled is more important than the money one makes. After all we only have one short life (for what we know), and we have the power to make changes, either small or great, to make our journey more joyful and meaningful. I know my daughters can see and understant this and I consider it to be a great example. I am encouraging them to pursue their passion, if it also brings money the better.
    I still feel guilty about wanting things I don’t need (spending time painting, writing, making things, taking a longer walk with the dog to enjoy the sun, attending yoga classes because I can feel the benefits…) but at least now I can recognise that feeling and actively oppose it.
    And I feel much better, I really do.

  13. Tara, this is so true. We often ignore what’s in our souls and finding a realistic way to pursue who we are really meant to be because it’s not “practical” or because we should be just happy enough that we have what we have. These are the scripts I grew up with. But as I grow older, I’m realizing that to be truly successful (however you define it for yourself) means you don’t follow the beaten path (unless that path is what speaks to your soul). Fear also too often gets in the way of pursuing our dreams, until the fear of not being who you want to be in life outweighs the fear of starting what you’re meant to do.

  14. Thank you so much for this Tara.
    I’ve always felt guilty for wanting something more than I’ve already got. I’ve been blessed with so much in so many ways,I feel greedy for not just being happy with what I already have.

    This really has helped me put my ‘needs’ in a new perspective and I know this is going to help me do the things I need to do to get to where I want to be in the future.

    Thank you so so much!

  15. I worked too many years in meaningless jobs that paid…just enough, but they paid. When I had my daughter, I decided I had to stay home – going back to work at my painfully frustrating job was not an option. The only question was how would I help contribute to the household financially…it took almost a year to figure it out. It’s been a tough road to travel, but it’s all about the journey…and I’m quite thrilled that I have a good support network in my life. That support is very key.

    Thanks for this, Tara!

  16. Very well said! Your ideas about wants becoming needs that move you into quiet desperation are really helpful. I want to get away and think this through but I am at my day-job and have another hour to go!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. I relate to this so much. You’re truly an inspiration. I really want to get to the level where you are one day! I quit my job 5 months ago and although it is a struggle when it comes to money, I am happier. I am expecting a child in early May and I need to be there for him. I know the only way I will feel fulfilled is doing work on my own terms, which is a work in progress for me. You’re right, acting on your own needs will only get you closer to them.

  18. Seriously, I have too much to say about how awesome this post is, how deeply it touched me, and how wonderfully inspiring you are to me right now to type it all here: suffice to say, this blog as become an all time favorite of late. Thank you so much for everything! :)

  19. Your post comes at the perfect time in my life. I am in that crossroads of we have the basics covered now what? We worked for 13 years building our family,home and life now there seems to be voids that I could not put my finger on. My needs have changed is all. Creativity, exploration and, physical activity now top my list just like clothes for the kids, a car to drive to work and a safe place to live use to. Those things were met so now I can focus on the next stage. Thank you for posting this is exactly how I have been feeling lately.

  20. I love how you put this:

    “What I needed was an outlet for the creativity that I was rediscovering. What I needed was a career that let me reach my full potential. I felt that need with the same longing I have for clean air and good food.”

    For the past year or so, I’ve really been wanting a bigger home, and my want of that does make me feel guilty—I have so much more than so many people, how can I feel like I deserve more? It helped me to think about what exactly I wanted, and why. I didn’t want a big home just to have a big home, like a status symbol. I want a bigger home to enhance the things I love most about my life: family time, inviting people in, hosting meals, having a guest room for people to comfortably stay. I want my girls to have some autonomy and not have to share a bedroom. I want all of us to get along a bit better because we’re not fighting over the one bathroom. :) I want a space devoted to writing, sewing, and creating. And I want a bigger kitchen, with enough room for our whole family to prepare meals together. Thinking through those things makes me see my want for a bigger house differently. (And I think you may have inspired my next blog post!)

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