Verity Johnson – What I’ve Learnt

This year, I learnt that humans know what they want.

It was a strange realisation. I’m used to wandering around in semi-exasperated confusion, like I’m permanently assembling flat-pack furniture, saying to myself, “I don’t know
what I want!”

MOST OF US HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE WANT. Oh, we know we want a coffee, or a hummus wrap, or pink-suede thigh-high boots. But when it comes to anything more complicated than footwear and dietary needs… we’re flummoxed.

WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE SHOULD DO ABOUT JOBS. Do you stay with the job you hate, take the new job that you’ll still hate but offers more money, or do you run screaming into the woods and become a wolf-human hybrid?

AND WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT YOUR HOUSE? Do you want to stay in the Bay? Do you want to move to Auckland and look down on everyone? Do you want to move to Wellington and whinge about how Auckland looks down on everyone?


But this year, I had one of those moments. You know those moments when, if you were in the movies, they’d do a zoom-in close-up of your face. I realised that I knew what I wanted. I realised we actually all know. We just get distracted from it.

I WAS WALKING INTO A RESTAURANT, EXPOUNDING LOUDLY TO MY BOYFRIEND, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” I knew I wanted to quit my job. And I’d been offered a new, very prestigious job that would keep me in avocados and overpriced, scented candles for a long time. I felt like I should do it, I’d be good at it, it was respectable, etc. etc. etc. Or I could quit my job, travel around the country, and be a freelance writer again.

JUST AS MY LIPS FORMED THE WORDS, “I SHOULD PROBABLY TAKE THE RESPECTABLE JOB,” I felt a knot of sadness pulse in my stomach. I thought about the swanky job, and the knot contracted. Then I thought about writing and travelling, and the knot loosened. And I realised I knew what I needed to do. I quit the next day and started looking at flights.

THE TRUTH IS WE ALL HAVE A GUT FEELING OF WHAT WE SHOULD DO. We just don’t realise it, largely because, as soon as it materialises, we squash it beneath so much worry, self denial, and distraction that we can’t see it any more.

It’s like when you meet someone, you love spending time with them, they light up your life… but you worry they’re not suitable, that they may be too old, or that you might be missing out on dating all these hot 20-somethings if you commit to this person. (You know you have precisely no hot millennials harassing you for attention. You’re a firm single pringle. But what if…)

You don’t commit, it drifts away, and you feel awful. See. That emotion shows you that you knew all along what you wanted. You just got distracted by irrelevant doubts and worries.

SO THE SECRET isn’t really knowing what we want, it’s recognising and stripping away the other stupid distracting issues we insist on squashing on top of our desires.

And when you do strip them away, that is when you start being happy.