Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want: A Roundtable on How We Want to Feel

feature image via Spirited Well-Being.

I’m sure you all know the story by now but here we go: I read The Desire Map on the way to A-Camp 5 and it totally changed my life, or at least how I was living it and experiencing it. Especially how I was feeling about it. Because I can’t stop talking about this fucking book, Rachel and I are going to lead a queer Desire Map circle at A-Camp 6, which means we’ll be spending an hour or so talking about how we want to feel, where we want to go, and who we want to be, and I won’t cry at all!

One of the core principles in The Desire Map is the concept of “core desired feelings,” which are the feelings that live super deep inside of your soul and guide your every waking moment. You might feel sad because you just got into a fight with your friend or happy because you just got a raise, but those feelings are temporary and they fade. But desiring to feel “powerful” or “enlightened” might be longer-lasting feelings that you use to evaluate your next steps, make crucial decisions, and figure out what makes you happy. Those feelings are your CDFs.

The idea is that once you start focusing on how you want to feel, you start making different choices. Instead of looking for the dream job, you start to look for a sense of stability in the smallest ways. Instead of exhaustingly waiting for your dream grrl to come along, you can start finding love in your other relationships until you’re so full of it you burst. By looking deep into your heart and your brain and all the little nerve endings in your body, you start to realize that you don’t have to wait ’til you have the family or wait ’til you have the dream job to feel the things those goals were gonna make you feel. And once you figure out what feeling you were chasing, you can start working toward it – and getting a solid taste of it — every day.

And that, my friend, seriously changes everything.

A few of us on Team Autostraddle have read The Desire Map, and some of us haven’t but still are self-aware enough to know what guiding principles we’re using to build our lives and our futures. In honor of today’s Desire Map circle – and so y’all who aren’t on the mountain can get in on the soul-spilling – I asked them to share with us what their core desired feelings are, and how they change their lives.

GROUNDED / PRESENT: Beth, Tarot Writer

I’m an excitable, energetic person who generally has no trouble starting projects, making plans and getting things done. Which is awesome – I really value this energy – but I often feel like my feet aren’t actually touching the ground, like things aren’t tangible, or else I totally neglect my physical needs – I don’t eat properly, or I work in an uncomfortable position for hours and get back-ache. It’s not sexy and it’s not cool!

I find it really helpful to describe the different areas of my life in terms of the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. For me, fire represents that excited, impassioned energy, water is my emotions and intuition, earth is my physical and sensual world, the stuff that connects me to my environment and community, and air is my intellect and sense of logic. I generally have a lot of fire (that’s my drive and how I get stuff done) and air (lots of thinking and planning, mind-maps, lists) …water – my emotional self – comes and goes, but the thing I struggle most with is earth.

Here are a few ways I ground myself and bring more earthy, sensual, nourishing energy into my life:

  • Gardening. Digging. I don’t have a garden, but even tending a few potted herbs feels good. And now the nights are getting lighter I’m gonna ask my friend if I can help out on her allotment.
  • Going out to work. I live on a small boat and there’s definitely no comfy home office – if I’m working from home I’m scrunched on the sofa or sprawled on the bed, which is really bad for my back. I’ve got a studio now (a major self-care investment which is worth every penny – if you can afford it, you should seriously consider it) but before that I would go sit in two different cafes nearby where the light was good and the seats were comfortable.
  • Days out. Climbing a hill, going to the seaside, a walk in the woods. Phone off. Just being super aware of the feel of tree-bark, the sound of water, the texture of the ground under your feet.
  • Going to the gym. I resisted this for years, I thought ‘the gym’ was for other people. Now I go two or three times a week and it makes me feel amazing.
  • Keeping healthy food in the fridge at my studio so I can make myself a decent lunch (rather than drinking five coffees and skipping lunch/buying a pie for the third day running) – here’s a cool Autostraddle post about doing that!
  • Simply leaving the house! A morning walk before looking at the internet, a stroll before bed – you never regret this, it’s just creating the routine that’s difficult. DO IT!
  • DIY. Paint a wall. Put up a shelf. Get crafty. Make a thing and post it to a faraway friend.
  • Best of all and totally free: lie on the ground. Spread your arms like you’re making a snow angel. Breathe. Feel the sun. Or the rain!

I also do tarot readings for myself where I consciously choose the cards that represent the feelings I want to have. Seeing those deliberately-chosen feelings laid out in front of me helps me to stick with my intentions. I did this in quite a major way a month ago, where I built a ritual around the specific ways I wanted to ground myself.

SEEN: Mey, Trans Editor

For my entire life when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I had only one answer, “I want to be famous.” Sometimes that meant a famous musician, sometimes that meant a famous filmmaker, sometimes that meant a famous paleontologist (Jurassic Park gave me unrealistic expectations about some things), a famous politician, or more usually, a famous writer. I didn’t know what career or life I wanted, all I knew was that I wanted people to know who I was and to know my story.

The thing was, for most of my life, I couldn’t be seen. No one would know who I was or what my story was. I was hiding in the closet and no one knew that I was a woman or that I was queer. I also silenced my voice in other ways because I thought that if one part of my life was out there for the public to see, maybe other, more secret parts would be too. So I hid. I was afraid to really put myself out there, I was reluctant to share things about myself, even with my closest friends, I would talk about myself a lot, but I would do it in a way that deflected from talking about my true self.

Now, I do things to make sure that I am seen and known. I live proudly and openly as a trans woman. I live proudly and openly as a lesbian and a queer woman. Those are important parts of who I am and I worked so long and hard to hide them, that now that I’m able to talk about being queer and trans, I do so as much as I can. I want people to not just know who and what I am, but I want them to really see that and to acknowledge it. I’m a queer transgender Latina lesbian, and I am proudly those things. People like me don’t usually get to be seen. I know that I usually pass as white, and so because of that, I don’t have to worry about violence the way that Black and darker-skinned Latina trans women do, and I also know that my light-skinned privilege gives me more of a voice, and so I’m not going to compare my struggle to be seen to Black trans women or other trans women of color, but it’s still hard.

Writing for Autostraddle helps me to be seen. I’m able to write about who I am and have a platform where I can share it with more people than I could have ever hoped before. I’m able to write personal essays that, sometimes, talk about things that are very deeply rooted and closely guarded in my heart. By sharing my story like this and by being so public with my life, and by doing it online, where it will live on forever, I can make sure that I’m seen, that my life counts and that I don’t become just another statistic.

SATISFIED: Rachel, Managing Editor

Virtually never have I felt like I was doing enough, or like I was done with something. As a child there was a rule that I had to schedule a conference with my teacher if at any point I had less than an A in a class — A- wasn’t good enough — and as a young adult I juggled multiple part-time jobs with unpaid internships and honors theses, ensuring that no matter how hard I worked and how much I got done I was always still behind because somehow that was comforting, knowing that there was always something waiting for me to throw myself into. After a while, though, this gets really exhausting! I never showed writing to anyone else or sent it out for publication because I was always convinced it still needed work and could be better; I would agree to take on eight zillion projects and then get resentful when I was sleeping three hours a night and falling asleep at the wheel. Something changed in my life and it stopped feeling like an accomplishment in and of itself to be always working, or it stopped doing what it had been doing for me. I started to want to feel like I could, you know, relax. I wanted to finally have done enough work that it felt like enough. But that isn’t really a thing! At least not for my weirdo relationship with work.

So instead, I’m working on trying to find pleasure and fulfillment from tasks themselves, rather than obsessing with the completion of them. It might not sound like much, but in my tiny hellhole of a brain, it is. Forget whether I achieved the tacit goal of Eating Healthy Homemade Meals every day this week — did I enjoy what I ate for breakfast this morning? Regardless of whether I got enough done on this personal essay, at least for right now, did I get something out of the process of writing it? Ignoring briefly whether it was a productive day, was it a day where I felt happy?

This isn’t to say that I feel fulfilled or, you know, gorged on life’s small pleasures every moment of every day, but that I have a wider range of options: rather than feeling shitty basically all the time because the only time I deserved to not feel shitty was when everything had been done perfectly and that is never, I have the possibility of sometimes feeling like things are okay, like on the whole things are pretty good actually. Like maybe when I look around and take stock of things I’m actually pretty satisfied with how they’re going.

OPEN: KaeLyn, Contributing Editor & Margaret Cho Impersonator

I want to write that my guiding principle is balance. That is what I often strive towards and what always seems just out of reach. Sometimes I get so close I can smell it, like the lingering scent of it, like when you can breathe in the cologne of some stranger in an elevator who must have just recently gotten off on another floor…but you missed them completely. So close. Other times it feels like balance is on another continent, across the ocean, drifting ever-so-slightly farther away with as I doggie paddle against the tide. I’m not very good at balance.

However, I thrive under stress. I get more done when my to-do list is long. When my list is short, I find it impossible to focus and feel unproductive. It turns out, I don’t want to have the perfectly balanced schedule or life plan. I don’t think I’d even know what to do with that kind of equilibrium. What I really want is to be sure I’m staying open. To new opportunities, to scary and possibly painful experiences, to radically shifting goals, to reprioritizing my priorities, to unruly escapism, to all of life’s greatest gifts. I want to always be willing to invite new experiences in, to change my mind, to make the choice to see something through or let it fall away, to reinvent myself over and over.

When I am most stressed, when balance seems impossible, that is when I close up. I don’t have time or space to think beyond the very next minute. How many minutes until the next hour? How many hours until the next day? How many days until I can rest? There are times when it has to be this way, because I put so much on my schedule, when I start to work myself into exhaustion. These are the times I need to work extra hard to stay open, to remembering what the whole picture looks like when I just want to focus on the minutiae.

When I applied to write for Autostraddle, I was pretty sure I was making the worst decision ever. I was already working one full-time job and one side job. I was simultaneously re-matriculating into a grad program to finish a degree I’d put off years ago. We were talking about having a kid and my life plan was supposed to include cutting back on my commitments, quitting some of the nonprofit boards I’m on, scaling back. I never thought I’d be plucked from the first rounds of applicants. It was exciting to think about, but I didn’t really plan for actually doing it. When I was brought into the first round of potential CEs, I was thrilled and also panicked. I flirted with dropping out of the search because I knew I didn’t have the time, realistically, balance-wise. My spouse, the person who convinced me I needed to pare down my schedule, was also the person who told me to stick it out with Autostraddle. Will this make you happy? Would you love it? he asked and I knew that I would.

I had felt distant from real-life queer community for a while, as many of my queer friends were not actively engaged in grassroots queer activism anymore. We got older. People settled into jobs, relationships, parenting, homesteading, etc. or they didn’t settle at all and were in constant survival mode. I wasn’t entirely sure where my queer adulthood fit into all of that. I studied creative writing in undergrad, but I had stopped writing for myself years ago and I didn’t see myself as a writer anymore. Waffle encouraged me to be open, to see where the Autostraddle thing went, against my better judgement that I really didn’t see where I’d have time.

I’m so glad I stuck it out. I am so healed and lifted by being surrounded by these beautiful queer humans who are actively engaged in making the world a little bit better through art, politics, humor, and words. Autostraddle broke me wide open. And I’ve remained open. I am open to my future family plans with Waffle, as well as more open to the possibility that it might not work out and knowing we’ll be OK. I’m open to continuing on my current (full-time) career path or going in an entirely different direction, a direction I hadn’t really considered as viable before I started writing for AS. I’ve always been flexible and productive under duress, but more than I ever have been in the past decade, I’m staying open to multiple futures, to intentionally not knowing exactly what comes next, to life stretching out before me like a ripe, ripe dream.

BALANCED: Ali, Geekery Editor

Relatively speaking, balance has not always been my guiding principle and it is not a natural state for me. Growing up, my guiding principle might have been BALLS TO THE WALL if that were a thing that people said back then. I didn’t do anything half-way and when I decided to do something, I did it to the extreme. Fifth grade required us to make brochures for a book we read, and I made an oversized one out of tri-fold poster board that could be seen across the library. “If you want people to like you more,” a friend said, “maybe you should cut back on the A pluses.” A) that is terrible advice, wtf was wrong with you? and b) that is when I realized that perhaps throwing every piece of energy I have into something might not be what everyone is inclined to do. Until that point, I just assumed all other humans did that.

High school saw me decide to join color guard in our competitive, group six marching band (if you’re not familiar with band, group six is a FUCKING HUGE BAND). I hated it the first year, and I wasn’t any good at it. We had to be on the hot, sun-beaten field and there was a dead deer off the highway where we were practicing so our entire bandcamp was spent in roadkill stench. I stuck through that year and three more out of sheer will power. I grew to love it, but it solidified an opinion I’d long held: anything worth having meant suffering.

I suppose these are admirable qualities by themselves; certainly they appear to be when they appear to lead to productivity and success. But they caused me to ignore a low-grade, ever-present unhappiness to pursue a career in theatre just because performing was the first thing I found that I was even a little bit good at. Quitting was unheard of, and improving my craft was supposed to be so hard as to make me feel tortured, right? RIGHT!? When I did finally figure out I wanted to be a writer and set about obtaining a job in the tech industry to support my writing, it lead me to constant exhaustion while I tried to like a job that I simply didn’t like, working for a large corporation that, for all it’s wonderful bits, still treated people like a commodity in the end. When I think the kinds of sacrifices I made in the name of things I believed my career to be, I sometimes get a little ill. I could’ve been this happy so much sooner if I’d just added a little balance.

And by balance, I mean this—I don’t think I’m ever going to completely conquer my natural tendency to throw every piece of my energy into things. But I can, say, not throw all of it into career and I can balance the things I want out of my actual life with my drive. I can alternate which field I sew my fucks in: fields need to lie fallow or they stop growing things. That’s how I started pulling myself out of an unhappiness spiral: I added a little bit of moderation to my go-go-go. I pulled back and reassessed the actual amount of energy I had and divided it a little more equally. I discovered that the best way to harness my pedal-to-the-metal superpowers was to switch tasks several times throughout the day in a way that traditional work environments don’t generally support, so I structured my life to work from home. I discovered I’d been neglecting my friendships in favor of career, so I structured my work-from-home schedule to allow me to hang out with them more. And mostly, I figured out how to balance my LET’S BEST WHATEVER THE HECK THIS IS with asking myself if I’m doing so in service of what I want my whole life (not just part of my life, and not just a very temporary part of my life) to look like. And using the past tense here is a total falsehood, so perhaps I should add the word “mostly.” I mostly discovered. I mostly reassessed. I mostly figured out.

Balance is a constant struggle for me, and every day is a new day in which I succeed or fail at it. But by making sure I’m addressing myself as a whole person instead of leveling up in only one area, I am for sure making better decisions overall. I don’t think balance will ever be easy for me. But then again, everything worth having is worth a struggle.

INTENTIONAL: Cecelia, Intern

As a junior in college, I’m deep in the midst of experiencing kaleidoscopic identity crisis for the first time. Right now, life is a collection of scenarios that all require me to make “formative” choices about who I am. I want all the versions of myself within different scenarios to add up and form one complete, whole person. But this isn’t how it works. Who I am at the office for my first professional internship is wildly different from the person who I am at the club with a girl, which is wildly different from the person that I am in classes for my major or my minor.

I know we’ve all been socialized to feel as though we have to be one identifiable thing, and that the idea of fitting within a box is in service of some really oppressive systems. I know that. But I’m a Sagittarius through and through (impossibly it’s my Ascendant, Sun, and Moon sign) and so more than anything else, I crave honesty and authenticity in life. It’s exhausting to always mirror others, to lose myself in the scenarios I encounter. It only takes a moment to check in, to critically ask: what am I putting my energy into, and why? The goal of living with intention is to build a strong sense of self for my rapidly approaching free fall into the world.

I want to experience life openly – to be present and allow people, places and things to fully affect me in the moment. But blindly saying yes to every opportunity stretches me so thin that I lose my focus in the chaos. With intention, other words follow, like focus and direction. I’m not worried about having everything figured out. But wherever I go in this world, I want to be able to feel strong in the choices I have made with full intention.

BLISSED OUT: Carmen, Feminism & Straddleverse Editor

I want to do things just because they feel good.

I’ve certainly dabbled in hedonism and recklessness before, and I think I double-majored in them in college, but I’m also a sometimes-Type-A workaholic with an overachiever complex. I make lists and do what’s responsible and right and try to get as much done as possible. As of late, it’s meant sacrificing my “me time,” and it’s meant becoming so exhausted over time that I’m pretty sure my body is falling apart.

When I say I wanna be “blissed out,” it means I want to be extra content, super happy, joyful to the point where it flows in my bones. I know this is possible, because I’ve felt this way before, all when I was wildly different people and all at various times. I know that if I tap into my soul and really evaluate my entire life, I’ll be able to figure out what can get me there and keep me there. I know I want to return to optimism. I know I want to see the beauty in everything and remember what I’m grateful for, even when I’m on my grind or struggling with something really hard. I know I wanna be fucking thrilled to be alive. And in order to do that, I need to take back my life. I need to do things because they fulfill me, not because someone asked me to do them or I felt obligated to do them or I read in a book somewhere that doing them would enrich my life.

Over time, that’s going to involve some big changes, none of which I’m really quite ready to put on the Internet (just yet). But in the day-to-day, it means carving out that “me time” and using it to rediscover the spark that used to keep me going. I’ve been spacing out deadlines and resisting the urge to overbook myself, which means I’m less stressed when I start the day and I’m giving myself more time to recharge. I’ve started “unplugging” when I get home from work or when I go on vacation, which feels amazing and really helps me clear my head. And I wake up in the morning earlier than I have to, just so I can watch television and hang out with Eli.

I want to do things just because they feel good. The hope is that once I let myself do it in little pieces, I can build an entire life of it.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I just want to be understood. Even this morning, I was tripping over myself trying to explain my thoughts to various people. I think for the whole of my life, people have just been left incredibly confused as to why I do what I do, say what I say, feel what I feel, think what I think. It just never makes sense to people. And, granted, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me, either, a lot of the time. But still. I get that I’m a little bit odd, I get that my bouts of sadness seem to make zero sense, I get that I get annoyed over weird things. But surely there’s someone out there that’s going to dig a little deeper and be willing to unravel the complexity that is me.
    And, I want to be happy. Truly happy, not just because I started a new antidepressant and it’s in a honeymoon stage. Not just because a girl I like flirts with me. Not just because I got a new job. Not just because I lost weight and can fit into a given size. But truly, deeply happy. A lasting happiness. A true happiness. Contentment and security. That’d be nice.

  2. I am all about this. I stumbled into something similar a few weeks ago and it’s like being reborn. Glad it’s being written about and looking forward to reading more of the straddler writer’s perspectives on it.

  3. I want Courage. Courage to believe that I am enough for myself. If I work on that, then all my issues wont be issues anymore. Everything else would just fall in line. I’d stop worrying about what everyone wants me to be and be what I want to be. I would work for exactly what I want. Be who I want. I have already began on my mission with courage and I am seeing some results. And comment here is also a step. So I guess I am doing okay.

  4. Reading this felt so good. I have been on a journey to find these things since leaving grad school and I think I’m taking baby steps towards a new me. I’m so excited because it already feelings aMAzing.

    I want to be my truest most authentic self in all the spaces I am in- at work, on the street, at home, with family, with friend- all the time. I want to stretch myself wide and take up space with the happiness I have found. I hold back so much. I am such a perfectionist I never let myself make mistakes or try things out unless I know I will be good at them or unless I am making fun of myself. So I want to express myself- even if its a scream on stage or trying to go out for roller derby and falling on my ass. I deserve the opportunity to live life authentically.

  5. A friend of mine recently said his new mantra was: “Live with integrity.” I really liked that. As an English teacher, I clung to the definition of “integrity.”

    Integrity (n.): adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

    This year has thrown me for a proverbial loop. As I continue to trudge through things, I want to remain completely honest with myself and others. Not that I wasn’t before (subversive-ness doesn’t suit me), but I wasn’t focused on the idea of having integrity. Especially when it came to myself and what I want/need.

    I figure, if I live with integrity, other things will fall into place. That’s the hope, at least.

  6. This is really great, I loved reading what everyone is striving for. The idea that these feelings can really stem from ourselves is what makes for true happiness, which can’t come from external sources.

    I want to be trusting and live life with a higher consciousness, to not get wrapped up in the hecticness and drama. I, like Beth, find it helpful to take stock of my life in terms of the 4 elements, and I feel like in general I’ve got all four covered pretty well. The thing that knocks me off kilter, or triggers anxiety and OCD, is my lack of trust. Not so much in others, but in myself, the situation, the world, my purpose.

    Sidenote, I so wish I could hang with all you wonderful autostraddlers. I’m constantly in search of connections with people that have a combo of mutually caring, deep meaningful connection, and hilarity. Which AS has in spades. Much love for you all <3

  7. this is so awesome. I also love this book and use it A LOT, both personally and professionally. this us my two favorite things combining! autostraddle + Danielle = conquering the world? maybe just our own lives? #allthefeelings? question: at A camp are you going to be coaching each other? enough cannot be said about a good coach through that whole process…

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