Knowing What You Need by Robert M. Sherfield, Ph.D.

Finding your purpose in life may rest in that one question: What do you need — not what do you want, but what do you need? Your needs are quite powerful and they may hold the key to helping you discover your purpose.

There is a difference between need and want. To need is to require, to want is to desire something greatly. Needs are stronger than wants. Many people confuse the two.

Needs involve things that are required to actually help you live, but they also involve things that are required to help you live well. Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified several levels of needs in every human, including basic needs such as air, water, safety, love, and esteem, higher-level intellectual needs, and finally, the need for self-actualization or self-fulfillment.

So, what do you really need in your life? Do you need happiness? Do you need passion? Do you need love? Do you need caffeine? Do you need to have purpose?


“If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I want to warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy the rest of your life.”

— Abraham Maslow

Stop reading for a moment and make two lists — one list should be the things you need to actuallysurvive, and the other list should involve things you need to live in true self. Do not include wants. Make your list now.

Survival and True SelfWas that a hard task? Look at your list and see if there are any “wants” listed? Can you tell the difference? If you have listed things like a new car, a luxurious home, a supercomputer, you are listing “wants” instead of needs.

If your needs list for survival includes things like food, shelter, clothing, safety, and some money, you are on the right track. If your needs list for “true self” includes things like family, friends, passion, and intimacy, you are on the right track.

What is the lowest common denominator in the list of “true self” needs? It is people. So, it can be said that a part of your needs for “true self” is an association with people.

Take a moment and think about your list of needs for “true self.” After you review your list, look for the common denominators such as people, power, the need to be outdoors, the need to have creative access, or the need to feel needed. This will help you begin to define and refine your purpose.

The Case of GloriaGloria felt lost, absolutely lost. She felt alone, empty, and unfulfilled in her home life, her career, and in her heart. She knew that her life was not in sync with her purpose, but she did not know what her purpose really was. She had tried to find her purpose while in college. She majored in office administration and had become a very successful executive assistant. While the people she worked with loved how she did her job, she did not love her career.

She sat down one weekend and tried to think about the things in her life that brought her joy. She listed her friends, her two cats, food, music, going to the movies, and reading. But she wondered how her purpose could be found in a hot dog and Gone With the Wind. She began to list the things that she really needed in her life. Her list revealed that she needed to feel loved and give love, she needed to feel safe, both in terms of physical safety and in terms of monetary safety, and she listed that she needed her two pets.

That was a very strange and unexpected thing for her to find on her list. She knew that she loved her pets and cared for them deeply, but she never dreamed that pets would appear on an honest list of basic “true self” needs. But there they were, larger than life.

What does this mean, she thought? So, she began to explore further and realized that she not only loved her pets dearly, but that she had always loved others’ pets as well. She thought back across her life and realized that she had always taken in stray cats and dogs, and on occasion, she had volunteered to pet sit for friends going out of town.


“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

— Aristotle

She made a decision to take a step. She went to the computer, created several flyers and some business cards, and decided that on Monday, she would begin to let people know that she was available to “pet sit” on a limited basis. She wondered if she would enjoy it as much as she had in the past. She knew that she had the skills, knowledge, and desire to do it, but she wondered if this new part-time job would bring her joy.

She booked a few jobs and found that she was in love with being around animals and caring for them in their owner’s absence. She was giving love and feeling love. She began to book more sitting jobs in the early mornings, walks during lunch, and feeding in the evening. She could not believe how much elation this had brought to her life.

Her friends could not believe it either and thought that she had gone overboard with the number of bookings. She knew that she had not. She knew that bigger things were on the horizon. She knew that in one month, she would quit her job and become a professional pet sitter. She had found her passion, her calling, and her joy. There it was written on a strange little list during a weekend of soul-searching. There it was, in the face of her two cats, her purpose.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: