This article was published on Medium on January 2, 2016.

The New Year has begun and I’ve taken some time out to reflect on the past year. It has been a testing and intense year in which many of the plans I had made did not quiet turn out the way I had hoped.

In September of last year I wrote an article about “failing beautifully” in which I distinguished between joyous “want” goals and less joyous “should” goals. It seemed to me that my true wants are grounded in love whereas my shoulds are linked to fears I have. In the article I proposed that there is value in advertising ones wants loudly to the world. By making something we really want visible, it does heighten the risk of failing publicly — but it also enhances the joy that comes from leaning fully into a love-based goal.

The two love-goals I announced “loudly” last year were:

  1. to convince musician/artist Amanda Palmer to write the introduction to my forthcoming book “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” and
  2. to create an outstanding online-platform for personal development based on the active consciousU*-coaching community in Berlin.

As far as 1) goes, I clearly failed. Even though I poured my heart and soul and two weeks of work into the video letter to Amanda Palmer what happened was: absolutely nothing. Besides the acknowledgement from her assistant that the message had been received, I never heard a word from Amanda Palmer herself. But still, this labour of love was not in vain. I had a lot of fun creating this video and writing to a real rock star made me more confident to approach other people for support.

In respect to 2) I found that life events, namely the passing of my mother stalled my ambitions. Yet, despite the challenge that my mother’s condition presented all during last year, a lot of work has gone into the conceptual planning and strategy for ConsciousU* behind the scenes (our platform has been launched!).

Looking back, I can say that I am deeply grateful for all of these experiences I have made along the way. My biggest insight, is that last year, whenever I turned towards a true want, it felt as if I got closer to truly “doing my thing”. We speak of doing “our thing” when we do something that is unquestionably “ours”. This “thing” nourishes our sense of meaning in a way that makes the process of creation as worthwhile as the outcome.

I would like to introduce a metaphor in order to illustrate just why I believe that focusing on ones “thing” is so rewarding.

The Human Iceberg

We know that only about 10% of an iceberg’s total mass is visible above the waterline. The same could be said about humans: what is visible of us — our behaviour — is only a fraction of who we are. Not directly visible, so to speak “underneath the waterline”, is hidden what is driving our behaviour: our feelings and thoughts, our values and our central psychological needs.

 “Our thing” and our meaning are intertwined on these deeper levels, our iceberg. The more we act in accordance with our values and needs, the more meaningful what we do becomes, and the more we enjoy the feeling that we are in fact doing what we are called to be doing. Contrariwise, the further our actions are removed from our values and needs the higher the price we, and quite often people in our environment, pay for us not doing “our thing”. The longer we ignore or act in contradiction with our values and needs the more likely we are to feel bitter, sarcastic and impatient with others or become jealous of their success and lifestyle.

Honest AND Considerate?

Our culture and our family have largely shaped the values that define us. What we call “values” are actions and mindsets which, in the eyes of our culture/family, define a good and mature human being. We measure our own worth as well is the worth of others based on how closely they are in accordance with these values. However, living up to the standard these values set isn’t always easy. We each consist of, again speaking metaphorically, different selves or voices that give priority to different values. The values we ourselves gravitate towards are neither necessarily congruent nor possible to realize simultaneously.

For example; a part of me insist that I should always be honest — all the while another part feels it is essential to always be mindful of the feelings and needs of others. To be absolutely honest and absolutely considerate at the same time is an impossible feat.

The 5 Psychological Needs

Our different selves do not only prioritise different values, they are often also invested in fulfilling different psychological needs. Our psychological needs are*:

  • Love/Belonging
  • Autonomous self-expression
  • Security/predictability
  • Growth/stimulation
  • Meaning/Significance

Each of these five needs represents a different pole within our inner compass. If we want to stay balanced, we need to find a way to make at least some room for the expression of each of these needs. In the same way as there can never be the one “right” value that is appropriate in every situation or circumstance, there is not the one “right” need that we should be focusing on.

Assessing the appropriateness of a need or value depends on the current context and what it is that I/we wish to achieve. It is therefore up to us to assess the balance of our needs and values with some distance and decide if the distribution is appropriate for what we seek to create.

Conflicting Needs

To do ones “thing” requires us to engage with the need for meaning and significance. In order to fulfil this need, attention to two additional needs is required: autonomous self-expression and growth and insecurity. If I want to create something of meaning, I need to have courage to both express what I truly want and be okay with facing the unknown/ uncertainty.
Quite often, it has been our need for autonomy and/or our need for growth/uncertainty that we sacrificed as children in order to secure being loved and to belong. As an adult longing to do “my thing”, I need to reanimate my rebellious inner child, the child that acts independently of “wanting to belong”; I need to reactivate the child that immersed itself in play, regardless of the requirements of adults; the child that pouts and stomps its foot to demonstrate how much it wants something; that child broke the rules because it was more curious than it was afraid.
The question that we have to answer for ourselves at different points in our lives is: is the balance of my inner need compass the right one for me at the moment?

Coaching Questions

If you would like to explore what it takes for you to do more of “your thing”, go ahead and answer the following questions:

  • What was the appearance of your compass in the past?
  • Which need was the centre of your attention?
  • Which have you neglected?
  • What longing or wanting do you feel inside of yourself?
    Focusing on which need would be necessary in order to fulfil this longing?
  • What do you want to accomplish in the coming year?

*Please bear in mind that this is not an exact science. Psychological needs are a construct, an assumption and therefore, depending on the researcher or author you turn to, there may be more than five or fewer than five needs.