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How to Get Everything You Want In Life


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Pam Houston

Redbook Magazine Logo Experts and women like you share simple tips for landing whatever your heart desires, whether its comfy shoes or your share of the American pie. But sometimes knowing - really knowing - what you want is the hardest part of all.

A few weeks ago, I went backpacking in the canyons of southern Utah with nine other women. Our ages spanned three decades, 23 to 53, our occupations-lawyer, bookseller, botanist, social worker, yoga instructor (to name only a few)-were as varied as the colors of the desert flowers that were just starting to bloom on all sides of our campsite. We spent our days hiking, cooling our bodies in pools the creek had carved into the canyon floor. We wrote in our journals. We talked long into the warm spring evenings about our lives and the changes we wanted to make in them. Danika had put her scientific studies on hold to build schools and medical facilities in earthquake-ravaged Pakistan. Sarah was considering giving up a 10-year career guiding troubled teens in the wilderness for something more stable, more lucrative, more relationship-friendly. Amy was about to go to law school, though she wasn't entirely sure why, because no matter how hard she tried she couldn't imagine herself as a lawyer.

Three days after the trip ended I would fly to New Orleans, to accompany the man in my life on a drive back to Colorado, where he would move in with me and my four Irish wolfhounds. We'd been friends for 20 years, long-distance lovers for one, and this next step seemed on the one hand inevitable, and on the other absolutely insane, given the history of relationship disasters we had each left in our separate paths.
Each of us women on the backpacking trip was at some kind of crossroads, and we all kept coming back to the same questions: How do we know when we are truly following our heart's desire? How can we tell the difference between our one true voice, and all the other voices that have taken up residence in our head and constantly compete for our attention, telling us what we should and should not do? How can we tell the difference between what the people who love us want for us, and what we want for ourselves? How do we learn to quiet the nay-saying voices that belong to bad fathers and bad bosses and bad TV shows that tell us all the things we can't have, and get quiet enough, brave enough, to imagine the life we truly want?

My mother wanted desperately for me to be an actress; my father wanted me to be Chris Evert. For the first 12 years of my life I played tennis as though my life depended on it, and I went into Manhattan a couple of times a week with my mother to audition for commercials and soaps. I couldn't seem to stop running around my backhand, though, and I never got the knack of saying I liked the potato chip if I didn't like the potato chip. When I came home from an eighth-grade exchange program in Wales and announced I wanted to be a writer, my parents' suspicions that I was an alien baby were confirmed. I understand now that it was the width of the Atlantic Ocean that afforded me the time and space to begin to separate my parents' dreams from my own. My mother eventually learned to see the writing life as "a kind of acting," but my father's frustration with my choice lasted as long as his life. And though they have both been gone many years, I still feel their desires in my own decision-making, still hear their disappointments echoed in the advice of friends and lovers, still find it so hard not to act on behalf of them, or in spite of them. Where in all of that longing, do I find the voice that speaks more softly than all the others: my own?

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