I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember – I read them, sing them, write them, type them, transcribe them, study them, evaluate them, rearrange them, and change my life by understanding them. I believe we are, in fact, molded by the words we choose.
Many years ago I read a book entitled “Wishcraft” by Barbara Sher in which she said something that resonated deeply in me; it was about a language/cultural shift in which people now attempt to justify what they want by the language of need. Have you been in a store, like Penny’s perhaps, and listened to a teenager with a parent shopping for clothing? The parent says, “Look at the price difference here – Wranglers are on sale for $22.95 and these designer jeans are $129.95. Can’t you be reasonable for a change?” “Mom, I CAN’T wear those awful things –NOBODY wears those. I NEED designer jeans!” Or have you listened in on your own self-talk over a purchase? – “My pickup is approaching 80,000 miles and soon it’s going to cost more just to keep it running. I really NEED a new pickup,” or after an invitation to a new social event and running through the 69 outfits in your closet, you say, “I NEED a new outfit to wear to the party – I don’t have a single thing to wear?” The real truth is not that we NEED these things, but that we WANT them. But wanting things like that seems a little self-centered and certainly we would prefer not to be known as self-centered, so we try to rationalize that we NEED them.
When I started thinking about those words – WISH, NEED, and WANT – and the differences in internalized meaning, I began to understand the power of words to stop me, or keep me where I’ve always been, or to propel me forward.
I told you I sing words and the song, When you Wish Upon a Star, from the movie, Pinocchio as sung by Jiminy Cricket, was a part of my childhood belief system:
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you.
A part of what Barbara Sher meant to get across in her book is that a dream or wish CAN spur us on to achievement, but more often than not, wishes are merely passive – like wishcraft – causing us to hope beyond hope that something magical will happen and our dreams will materialize – without effort or cost or time. For example, several times a year I say, “I wish I would win the Publisher’s Clearing House prize.” You’ve probably said the same thing or updated to the now legal Oklahoma lottery, but none of us goes to a builder to order our dream house based on Publisher’s Clearinghouse or the lottery, because we know wishes don’t make it so.
The next word in our trio of words is NEED. We’ve probably all heard the phrase, “Necessity (or need) is the mother of invention.” So, once again, although a need CAN be the force to propel us forward, in our culture it is more likely to be a rationalization for something we DON’T need. In addition, in our culture, if I have a NEED, it is probably because SOMEONE didn’t meet my needs. In that scenario, NEED becomes a word of blame and expectation. It is a word of infidelity and divorce – he or she didn’t meet my needs. It is a word of liberal politics – if there is a need, we’d better get funding to meet it because this is the land of opportunity and equality. So need has become a word of an outstretched palm waiting for somebody to put something in it.
The third word – WANT – is a word based on speaking the truth to yourself. To say “I want it” is to acknowledge ownership of your desire. When you can look at that pickup or the new outfit or the attainment of a new skill, such as speaking in front a group, and say to yourself, “I WANT that,” the door is opened to evaluate how much you want it, setting goals to get it and moving step-by-step toward it; and THAT is the key to achieving YOUR desires. When you want it enough, you’ll make a plan of action to achieve it. When you want it enough, you’ll be willing to count the cost and invest whatever it takes in time, energy, money, a support system and commitment.
We’re all here tonight in a Toastmasters meeting because we WANT something – more ease in speaking in front of groups; to prepare for a new phase in a career or as a professional speaker, motivator, or comedian; to practice leadership skills; or even to have contact with people who care enough to try to better themselves. So, the question tonight for each of us is, “Why am I here and what do I want?” Am I merely wishing for change and growth to magically occur? Because I have a NEED to achieve, am I waiting for someone else to provide the opportunity, the motivation, or the skills? Or am I willing to step out on a limb and say, “I WANT this enough to set goals, and make a plan of action and continue working at it until I attain it?”
When we can speak the latter with conviction, we have taken the first step toward harnessing the power of words to change our lives – to open the door to our realized future.
[from a talk given in 2009]