Why Knowing What You Don’t Want is Important

“What do you want to do?” is a ubiquitous question.  How about asking, “What don’t you want?”

At almost every stage of life you will hear a familiar lament from someone you know, “I am not sure what I want”. This starts very early when bored children are trying to find something to do.  They have no idea what they want but when mom and dad start making suggestions they can easily identify what they don’t want to do.  This continues throughout our lives, the subject matter just changes.

But we can use it to our advantage.

I teach Introduction to Baking and Pastries at a community college.  This is a beginner class and it is also a requirement for many different majors including Culinary Arts, Restaurant/Food Service Management, and Lodging and Tourism Management.  What that means to me, as the professor, is that this is usually their first semester ever in college, very few of those students are looking to be Pastry Chefs, and many of them don’t want to be there.  On the first day of every semester I have to explain to them why my class is required (don’t we all get ticked when we don’t understand why we have to take those requirement courses?) and why it is beneficial to them even if they never bake again another day in their lives.  Then I assure them that it is just important to know what you don’t want as it is to know what you do want.

That bit of advice applies for everything in life:  Choosing a career, a spouse, where you want to live, how to spend your money, how to spend your time, what you eat, what you wear, who you hang out with, etc.

Knowing what you don’t want helps eliminate things that would hinder you from figuring out what you do want. 

A very simple example of knowing what you don’t want is if you are picking a restaurant for dinner and you happen to be vegan.  You don’t want meat.  That eliminates all the steak, burger, and chicken joints.  That narrows your choices so you can use your time and energy looking for an establishment that would be more accommodating.

If you are in the dating world it could be a little less simple.  Sometimes it is hard to nail down the exact kind of person we are looking for and, as people can be multi-faceted. We want to be a little bit open.  However, there are always those qualities that are deal breakers, the things you don’t want and won’t accept.  That list might look like this: dishonesty, manipulation, double standards, drinks too much, kicks dogs and takes candy from children. That don’t list will keep those undesirable populations out of your little black book, help you thin out those unworthy of you, and boost the quality on your dating calendar.

Knowing what you don't want can point you in the opposite direction to what you do want. Click To Tweet

Knowing what you don’t want can point  you in the opposite direction to what you do want.  

For example, if you don’t want a job where you work at night then you choose day shift.  If you don’t want a mean spouse then choose a kind one.  If you don’t want debt then you choose to spend below your means.  Most things are not usually that black and white but at the very least you can head in the opposite direction to see what you will find.

It can help you fine tune what you have or help find a niche.

I know of a psychology professor who loved her field but was reluctant to seek out a job at a practice simply because she didn’t want to wear the suits and the heels every day.  One of the criteria in her choosing career path had to do with dress code. Some of you are snickering at that but that one simple thing made her life much happier all because she knew what she didn’t want. Instead she sought out a way to enjoy her field and use her talents in more comfortable clothes.

It can save you time and energy

As for my students, after the sixteen weeks is over, they either know whether they might want to learn more about pastry or they don’t. Some find out they don’t like working in the kitchen and consider options outside the kitchen or maybe even switching majors. Finding out what they didn’t want is a step toward success because they aren’t wasting any more time, energy, or money on something that wasn’t going to get them what they were hoping for.

For me, when I was my newly adult self, I thought it was a great idea to become a medical or dental assistant.  I liked to help people and I could make a decent living while I pursued my creative outlets.  It was a great plan. Such a great plan that I stayed at it for 5 years. Only I hated it.  I discovered that I didn’t have the temperament to deal with doctor egos and I was bored out of my mind.  The good news- I now had a list of things I didn’t want and I could go looking for what I did.


When has knowing what you didn’t want in your life helped you get what you did want?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *