The most definitive way to discover what you really want is to be offered something that looks great on paper. Maybe it doesn’t meet all of the criteria on your list, but it checks off some major points. Maybe, at first glance, it seems exponentially better than your current situation. Maybe it’s a job. It’s not the job you want to do forever, but you can hear yourself spinning it in such a way that future interviewers will classify it as “relevant experience.” Maybe it’s a person. You wouldn’t have sought them out initially, but now they’re in your space and you think you could be OK with it. Your first impression is that you have absolutely nothing in common, but you could see yourself being intrigued enough to dig deeper and find something that might resemble similarity if polished enough.
If you’re paying close enough attention, you will be able to identify these things by the lukewarm not-quite excitement that drapes over your shoulders. Instead of gushing over the qualities of the prospective job/love interest/whatever that you are drawn to, you focus on the things that you could make work. It’s the same mentality that a What Not to Wear contestant has when she tries on a dress that doesn’t quite fit but Stacy and Clinton insist that, if the waist is taken in just a smidge and the hemline is raised ever so slightly, she’ll have a fully functional outfit. You create lists of all of the compromises you could make to pull off accepting what is being offered. You pace back and forth in your mind, mulling over what you could put up with, what you could overlook, what you could quiet in yourself so that you can hear the good in this new situation.
And if you are paying close enough attention, at some point, you will notice your knees locking a little and your heels digging in. You will feel this calculation curdle into dread. This is resistance. This is a gut reaction. This is instinct, and you must listen.
I am not an impulsive person. Any big life decision I make is the fruit of much contemplation, journaling, wine drinking, etc. But I am a firm believer in following my instincts. I do not want to devote my time or any part of myself to anything or anyone that does not excite me. There is no calculation in excitement. You don’t have to exert so much effort hashing out how exactly you will make things work because you know that somehow you just will. I have known myself in this state of mind, and it will be impossible to accept anything that does not incite that in me.
You are allowed to respectfully decline, even if the offer looks solid on paper. You are allowed to say “thanks but no thanks” to paid vacation, opportunity for travel, a decent sense of humor, and/or a strong jawline if it just doesn’t feel right when it’s packaged with the rest of what the offer entails. There will be other offers, and at least one of them will be right. And when it’s right, the feeling in your gut will propel you forward, not pull you back.