By: Ben Reed, Staff Writer

What do I need? What do I want? These are some questions that I never let myself answer. 

My extroverted self is often performing for others, so I cater to their needs and expectations instead of my own. I feel as though I can never say no to others. This semester, I’m sequestered to a computer screen where a majority of my classes are all online, while my peers have begun in-person once more since the pandemic. However, even with a schedule of limited social interaction, I have found that it is important to say no when I need to. I say “need to”, because often when I think of declining a get-together with friends, it is something I want. But wanting and needing to say no are synonymous. 

I was taught from a young age that wanting and needing are two very different things, and the implications of that are still present in my life today. Until recently, I thought that to “need” is to fulfill baseline needs, such as food, water, as well as going to school or work. To “want” is to be self-gratifying; to do things for myself, such as taking a nap instead of doing my third batch of reading for classes, or purchasing a gift for myself. I used to think that doing small acts like these would be selfish or unproductive; a waste of money, even. Though I’ve realized through the heat of this semester that I need to give myself the same energy I put into virtual discussion boards I do every week. 

To put it frankly, what I want and what I need may be the same thing. Taking time off from doing schoolwork and watching a movie to scratch it off my Letterboxd watchlist is something I need to do for myself every once in a while. Last semester, I would have said that’s just a simple self-gratification, but it’s way bigger than that to me now. Giving my brain a break from subjecting it to blocks of meaningless text is a present to myself all on its own. 

Through this logic, if I were to do what I need (or want) to do for myself in the short term, what about the long term? My whole life has been plagued by the expectations that others have dreamt up for me. I am going to college because that is what is expected of me. I am expected to get a job with the degree that I will have worked so hard for to make the most amount of money possible. Anything other than this plan set for me would be impractical and irrational. Rationality and practicality, I suppose, is what can often cloud what we want and what we need. This may create the idea that self-gratification feels a lot like absolute selfishness and unrestrained self-centeredness. Just because I am not following the path laid out for me by my elders, doesn’t mean I’m being unproductive with my time on this planet.

My wants and needs can be clouded by rationality and practicality so that they are mutually exclusive, that they can’t be the same thing. However, the opposite can be the truth, too if we let it. What I want for myself is the same as what I need for myself. Although others’ best laid plans for me are different from what I have planned, that doesn’t mean that I’m being disrespectful to them for following my own route. I can say no because I want to, but also because I need to. Interchangeably using the words want and need as it pertains to myself is a huge lesson that I’m learning right now, and I think it’d be astounding if everyone practiced it. 


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