In 2020 I Dare You to Be Honest With Yourself About What You Really Need

It’s January 2020 and I have no interest in talking about new year’s resolutions, which are bullshit. What I do have an interest in is, as always, helping you live your best life. How do we live our best lives? We figure out exactly what we want and then we figure out what we need to do to actually achieve that life. The key: we have to be very honest about exactly what we want. We have to admit that we want things, we have to articulate what those things are, and we have to be realistic about the actions we must take to create the realities we desire.

My friends and I have taken to shortening this inquiry into a simple question. We ask it when we’re trying to parse out what to say during a fight, what to say to our crushes, what to say when we’re breaking up, what to say when we’re trying to navigate shitty bosses at work, what to say, well, ever. It’s simple in its efficiency and terrifying in its simplicity. The question we need to ask ourselves, starting today and then every day moving forward, is this: What is your personal end goal? Or, even more bluntly: What do you need?

The stakes are high. We have to admit we care. This is not work for the faint of heart. But I believe it is the only work worth doing in 2020 and for however many years we all have left on this earth. Are you willing to do this work with me? Full disclosure, when I told three separate humans the topic of this particular column, they all said “oh, no thank you!!”, so it’s possible that you will actually not want to do this work! I’m not going to lie to you and pretend it’s easy, it’s not easy! But if you’re willing, I do think it will change your whole life. Here’s how.

Get to Know Yourself and Tap Into Your Self Knowledge

The first step is arguably the hardest. You need to… figure out what you want. How the hell do you do that? Honestly, this is our life’s work; making small decisions over and over and over about what you actually really truly desire is all a life is, if you think about it. But how to nail down the things you want? How to articulate the things you absolutely do not want? I can’t tell you how to magically figure out what is truly important to you in this world, but I can offer some suggestions about how to start demystifying your innermost wants and needs.

Spend some time with yourself and your thoughts. Reflect on your habits, your patterns, the way your life currently looks, if it makes you feel happy or sad or neutral. Try to pinpoint moments when you felt really at peace – not that kind of manic energy that knocks you on your ass when you have a new crush but rather that kind of stable calm you feel when you have a really good, really regular day. What does your best most regular day look like?

I suggest you think of things this way not because manic new relationship energy isn’t grand (lez be honest, it fucking rules), and not because I think everyone should settle down into a stable routine (some of y’all are going to be happiest living chaotic lives, and you should go for it, sincerely!), but because if you examine when you feel most secure, you’ll find the way you want to live your life revealing itself. Some of us really need a comfy nesting space to feel good – other folks need to feel free to book a plane ticket at a moment’s notice. That’s not to say the first person doesn’t want to travel or the second person doesn’t need a place to live, it just means each human may be willing to make sacrifices for the thing that truly brings them inner peace – that’s their bottom line.

Another exercise is to conduct some thought experiments about potential paths you may take. For example, when you picture yourself in the future, think about how it would feel to have a wife and a kid. Do you have a strong reaction to that? Do you feel neutral? What about if you didn’t have kids? Does that feel better? Worse? Neutral? What would it look like if you stayed in your current career path? What would it looked like if you left the country? It’s okay to not know the answers to these questions right away, or to feel genuinely neutral, but you might be surprised that often if you give yourself space, a fairly strong reaction can come up. Listen to these reactions.

Think about the city you felt happiest living in. Think about the friendships that brought you the most joy and the least drama. Think about the work that has made you feel most fulfilled. Think about your whole damn life, and the large and small things that have felt like home. That’s what we’re working toward – that’s how we start to tap into our self knowledge.

Write Down All the Things You Need to Live Your Dream

Once you’ve taken some time to evaluate your entire life (no big deal, lol) we can move on to a more concrete step in the process. We’re going to address the present and the immediate future first. We’re not talking about a five year plan here; what are the things that are important to you right now? If we close our eyes and envision January 2021, what would you like things to look like in 365 days? Take out your journal or the notes app on your phone or anything that will allow you to write freely and capture your hopes and dreams. Think about your life in categories; this will differ for everyone, but if you need help getting started you could say: Sex/Dating, Friendship, Community, Work/Job, Hobbies, Home, Travel, Self. Now, the fun/scary part – start brainstorming your dream life. Don’t hold back. I’m serious, now is not the time to worry about “being realistic” or “practicalities.” Just think about the things that will actually bring you joy.

The reason this step is hard is I need you to be genuinely honest. If you’re single and you want to stay single, do not let yourself be swayed by the fact that your mom keeps hinting that she’d love a grandchild. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re 35 and you know you really want to have a baby, I need you to write that down, even if it seems impossible. If your biggest goal is to travel more this year, write that down. If you biggest goal is to nest more and make your home into the most special place in the universe, write that down. If you have conflicting hopes and dreams, write those down. We’re not making our plans yet. We’re listening to our hearts. We’re respecting ourselves enough to make space to ask, What do you need, and we’re loving ourselves enough to answer honestly and bravely.

Prioritize and Accept You Actually Cannot Have It All

Okay, you did it. Now look at your notes. That’s the dream! Right there in your hands, you are holding a roadmap to your dream life. You let yourself get honest about what you want. You prioritized yourself. Fuck yes! Now we’re going to get really real.

I wish I could say this is where it gets easy, but that would be a lie. In fact, this is where it gets much harder. Because whereas step one was about getting to know your inner world and step two was about dreaming your biggest dreams, step three is actually about addressing the realities and the practicalities. One of the worst realities about being an adult is accepting that usually… you actually cannot have it all. Figuring out what you do want also means being honest about what you don’t want. It also means coming to terms with the reality that sometimes you might want two different things very much, but you can literally only have one. Tragically, you cannot live in New York City and also in a yurt in rural Oregon. You cannot remain single and carefree forever and also have the security of a healthy monogamous partnership. My best friend likes to say, “You can do anything but you can’t do everything.” And that’s a fucking bummer. But it’s real life, and if you’re going to put in the effort and the truly hard work of figuring out what you need and then going for it, it’s good to be prepared that in achieving the things you need most, you will inevitably lose out on some other things you want. I’m sorry about that.

I want you to prioritize. Look at your deepest desires, the ones you wrote out so carefully and thoughtfully, and put them in order of importance. This can feel embarrassing for a variety of reasons – you wish you were the kind of person who puts your friends first but in actuality you really just want to travel as much as possible while you’re still young enough to not mind sleeping in shitty hostels, you used to think you didn’t give a fuck about romance and now you actually are lonely and would really like a partner – but you just need to lean into it. You never have to show anyone these notes, but if you can’t be honest with yourself about your wants and needs you’re never really going to be able to successfully achieve them.

Sit with the discomfort. I hear you. Admitting our desires is terrifying. Accepting that we might have to give up on certain things to welcome other things into our lives can hurt. You got this. You’re doing a good job.

Stop Lying to Yourself and Make Some Honest Action Items

Once you have come to terms with your end game, the next step is figuring out what action items you can enact to make these dreams come true.

Have you noticed how we lie to ourselves all the time, in ways large and small? We say we want to set boundaries around our time and space for the purposes of keeping things casual, but then we let all of our dates sleep over and make them breakfast with little garnishes. We allegedly want to prioritize Doing The Work but we keep putting off finding a new therapist. We promise this is the year we finish the goddamn book, but we don’t make time in our busy social schedule to write. A pretty girl asks us out on a date and we don’t really want to go but we feel bad saying no so we say yes. We are often saying yes when we mean no. We frequently put off the things that matter to us because they’re harder than the things that we care about so much less. We say we’ll figure it out tomorrow, we lead people on, we stay in dead end jobs and situations, we don’t put in the effort because it would be soul crushing if we did put in the effort and we didn’t get what we wanted so it’s better to just not try and blame our lack of ambition rather than the reality that things just don’t always work out how we want them to.

This is the part where we stop lying to ourselves.

I’m going to be real with you: sometimes you answer the question What do I need, you dream the biggest dream, you prioritize yourself and your desires, you take the action items to make it happen… and it doesn’t work out. The girl you’re falling in love with does not love you back. You interview for your dream job and they do not even get back to you, let alone allow you the privilege of blowing the interview. You actually can’t afford to travel anywhere this year, let alone take your dream trip to Europe. Systems of oppression are real and will affect different people reading this in different capacities, and I am in no way saying any of those systemic issues are your fault. That shit is fucked up. Sometimes you can’t achieve your dreams because of outside forces and in those cases we need to keep rallying and fighting as a community to make the world more just, more fair, more equitable, more livable for the most vulnerable amongst us. But what I’m suggesting is that there are lots of ways, outside of very real very fucked up systems of oppression, that we sabotage ourselves. No more.

Commit to taking the steps you need to take to actually achieve the radically honest dream version of your life you’re holding in your hands. If you want to be single this year… delete the dating apps off your phone, say no when hot babes ask you out, or commit extra hard to truly remaining casual with your dates. If you want to change your career path… put in the time after work applying to different jobs, reach out to your extended network to see if anyone can help mentor you on your new path, research what you need to do to make the leap from your current job to your next job. If you want to nurture and grow your friendships… make space in your life for your friends, finally start hosting that monthly book club/potluck/happy hour, verbalize to your friends how much you want to grow your bonds and then show up for the commitments you make to them.

Commit to Your Life, Turn Your Deepest Dreams into a Reality

You’re the only one who cares enough to turn your deepest dreams into a reality. I don’t promise that trying will result in succeeding, but I do promise that you will never ever make your dreams come true if you don’t take these first steps.

It starts with the very hardest step: be honest with yourself about what you really need. Will you do that this year? I dare you.

Commit to your life, babe. Start today.

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Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. Very hot, very fun, very weird. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 404 articles for us.


  1. i love this article so much, like possible my favorite vanessa article ever??

    at ACamp 2019 @mermaidqueenjude gave me a tarot reading based on the question “whats next” and the cards gave me a two hour explanation of “fuck you, we can’t tell you what to do if you don’t know what you want to do” and that has been fueling me ever since. you bet your ass i just wrote most of this article down on the January Intentions page in my planner.

  2. I really, really love this article. I think I will integrate this question into my journaling for…. ever: What does your best most regular day look like?

    Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for this article. It felt like my passion planner anthropomorphized so that I’ll actually pay attention. I’m at a crossroads of infinite unsure possibilities, and these are some great questions to spend time with

    • Wow, thank you Vanessa! I’ve been planning on sitting down and looking at things more in depth recently & this perfectly lays out the vague things floating around in my head that I know I need to look at squarely. (also, Hadley, “passion planner anthropomorphized” is spot on!!)

  4. I love this!!!!! So so much. Though I will point out that you COULD live in a yurt in Oregon and also in NYC. Lots of people are based in multiple places and move seasonally, for work or just for life reasons! Of course, the trade-off there is not being grounded in one core place/community. So you can’t do everything, but you can structure your life in any number of ways 💜

  5. Oh no! I was sitting down having the most lovely Saturday morning with lovely Saturday afternoon plans and thought, “Oh, I’ll read this”

    and now I have to rise up to the challenge of saying out loud the things I’ve been scared to admit I need in life.

  6. Vanessa, I wanted to say thank you for writing this piece. There are a few of yours that I’ve found myself coming back to, and this is one. I still have a note on my phone titled “In 365 Days – What Do You Need” that I started in January 2020. But then 2020 happened.

    By now I’m recovering enough from last year that I’m starting to make some actual changes in my life. It’s taken a while longer than I’d expected, but having already started that process of thinking about things from earlier on definitely helped me get a few balls rolling once I had some time and energy to make it happen.

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