About six months ago, I was having an extremely difficult day. My work wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, I was still dealing with painful memories of the divorce, I missed my girls, and things didn’t work out the way I’d hoped with a recent date. In all my frustration, as I spent time in the kitchen making Thai food and listening to a Spotify playlist that I typically reserve for nights when my daughters are with their mom, drowning my sorrows in self-pity and scotch, one specific song on my playlist caught my attention: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones. And for some reason, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time as I listened to the meaning behind the lyrics.
The basic history of the stanza is that Mick Jagger was standing in line at a drugstore to get a Cherry Coke but the store didn’t have any. His Producer, standing in line behind him, made the comment: “You can’t always get what you want.”
I started to reflect on how I view the world and how sometimes what I want is in conflict with what I need. I thought about how much stress I often create for myself by fixating on what I think want instead of focusing on the things my mind, body and spirit need. I realized that if I stop chasing the things that I feel I should have, I won’t set myself up for disappointment when I don’t get them. If I stop believing that something ought to be a certain way, I won’t be unfulfilled if it turns out differently than what I expected. Maybe the things I need are better than the things I want anyway, and building a sense of entitlement only hinders me from recognizing it.
I remember thinking deeply about this for a while as I chopped up bok choy and thai peppers. At first, I experienced a mild sense of panic. My mind was running wild with thoughts like: “I can’t just not go after the things I want in life—that is what drive is all about. If I don’t have drive, I won’t accomplish anything; if I don’t accomplish anything in life, I won’t be happy.” Thankfully, the moment of panic was as brief as it was incorrect. I then had a rush of calm fall over me as if the universe or God was telling me to relax, to let go, and to trust that everything would be okay. Trust in what you’re feeling. Drive and ambition have gotten you far in life, but how often have you tried to force a square peg in a round hole because you went after something you wanted just to say you achieved it?
The thought sank in a little deeper as I considered how my actions could impact my kids. I started to remember experiences where I wanted something for them and the results were not what I expected. I had a goal to make something happen because I wanted it, not because they did. That really made me stop and think.
As parents, we get excited to provide fun experiences or things for our kids, which is great, but I think every parent can understand the feeling when those moments of build up fall flat on their face. We have ideas we have for what we want our children to achieve or be later in life based upon our wants: “You’re going to be a doctor like your mom” or “Everyone in our family has gone to that college.” I asked myself, “Will I have a closer relationship with my girls if I stop worrying about the things I want for them and instead focus on what they really need?”
Over the next six months, I made a mental note to try this on. In the past I would have had the tendency to think about something that I wanted, focus, put my head down and go after it, but I would leave little room for flexibility and have an unwavering commitment towards it despite the pitfalls or problems that might occur by going after it. Sometimes this would create a lot of anxiety and stress which, in cases with my girls, would then make me a grumpy dad with a short fuse. We would all be miserable because I was so intent on something.
I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. Goal setting is important. So what I told myself was to set my goals as usual, but this time I would allow room for adaptability. I didn’t know how this would look, but I made a commitment to myself to go with it and trust in the process.
Slowly, I started to notice little changes. The event I might normally want to attend didn’t compel me to buy tickets—I needed a night at home anyway. The new gadgets at Costco didn’t seem so necessary—instead a new book would provide more value. That match on Bumble didn’t feel like it was something I needed to add to my schedule—maybe time with friends would be more beneficial. The little tweaks in perspective started to change the way I viewed the things I thought wanted. Now I was choosing to stay home, tune out the distractions, and color with the girls or get up an hour earlier than normal. The results were amazing. I felt like I had less of a to-do list, I was more engaged with my daughters, and I gained an overall sense of contentment.
There is a key ingredient to the Mick Jagger song that stuck with me that I believe allowed me to take the pressure off of myself in trying out this experiment. The lyrics are, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.” It was the “if you try sometimes” part that got me. That was enough to make me say to myself, “Just give it a chance.” Something was telling me I might be surprised at what I’d discover, and that is exactly what has happened. I’ve discovered a new way to approach life, which turns out was the same discovery Mick made in the 1960s at the Chelsea drugstore.