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How to Get Everything You Want In Life

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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?

What further complicates this process for me and all women, I think, is our capacity for empathy, our penchant for caretaking, the way we can't seem to be truly satisfied unless we are doing something for someone other than ourselves. Our generous nature is the best of things about us, but we run into trouble when generosity turns into martyrdom and resentment, when our good intentions toward those we love deafen us to that quieter call of our own desires.

Over a breakfast of strong coffee, dried apricots, and granola, I asked my hiking companions how they knew when their truest voice was speaking. Tami, the owner of a marketing agency, has come to the Utah canyons from Sonoma, CA. The energy she feels around a heart's desire is completely different from what she feels about a "should." She feels a genuine pull, the excitement of what if, and also the fear. Following a heart's desire involves risk: starting her own business, falling in love, writing fiction, running a marathon for the first time. She has to try it, and she has to be willing to fail. When she is in the realm of the shoulds, she is 100 percent in her logical brain, and she has total confidence in her abilities-she is doing what her head knows she is good at, rather than what her heart longs to try. And the shoulds can be an important part of the process. "Sometimes," she says, "the confidence you build up from all the shoulds is what allows you to reach for your heart's desire."

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