One of the ways I like to understand the world is by thinking about “wants versus needs.” We often know what we want, like more money, time, sleep, or caffeine (if you didn’t get the sleep). But we sometimes struggle to realize what we need. Yes, we know about food, water, and sleep (it is a biological requirement no matter what toddlers and college students believe). And yet, we don’t know everything we need.
When I used to be an academic advisor for adult college students, there were many conversations about what our students wanted. Research indicated they wanted convenience, relevance, accessibility, and cost-efficiency. At a conference, I heard adult higher education compared to an ATM: Students want them everywhere, always available, and with minimal fees. That perspective made my professional world into just a machine that you should plug money into and get a receipt, or diploma, in return. I did not argue that those things were worthy to be wanted. I just did not think they were all our students needed. After the death of a student, I recognized that his classmates needed a chaplain or counselor. When a student complained in my office about teammates kicking her off the team (after repeated mediations with the professor and myself), I knew that she needed accountability. High-fiving a new graduate, I knew that he needed someone who could see this day long before he did. And holding onto a woman who was sobbing over financial strains, I knew that she needed to be known as a human being, not a customer.
I still carry this “wants versus needs” framework into my work, and even into my personal life. It helps me to grant myself permission to do what I need, not what I want or what others want. Sometimes I need to quit the training run because I am just hating every step. I have given myself $20 to buy complete randomness at Target because I needed retail therapy. I will turn down the party that I am sure would be great fun, because I need the night of quiet rest instead. I want to do well in my next race, save for the future, and spend time with my friends. And, sometimes, there needs to be something else instead.
Sometimes you need the sparkle. And sometimes you need every blanket piled on top of you. Because this is what strength looks like.