I constantly hear people talking about how they deserve things. This could be “a partner who does X”, “a certain amount of money”, or “a glass of wine in the evenings”. What I’ve noticed is that, almost always, the part that pushes this notion of deserving actually stems from a fear of unworthiness—the fear that we actually don’t deserve anything. 

When we distill these impulses down, I think it’s about something much more fundamental. It’s incredibly vulnerable to want something without knowing if we’ll ever get it. We have control over some things in the world, but there are many things we have no control over. That alone is incredibly vulnerable. The idea that we deserve things is a contraction based simply on how intensely vulnerable it is to want something. 

Let your wanting be OK. 

It’s not about whether you deserve it. You want it, and that’s enough. 

As humans, we are very afraid of wanting things, and admitting that we want things—to ourselves and to others. We’re afraid to want things, because we’re afraid we won’t get it. We’re afraid to get our hopes up and then be disappointed. The disappointment of not getting what we want is very hard to bear. It feels easier to not want anything in the first place. 

Even if no one else wants the thing you want, it’s totally okay that you still want it. Whether a person can give it to you or not, it’s totally okay that you want it. If people think you’re stupid for wanting it, it’s still okay that you want it. Whether you’ve done anything to deserve it or not, you are still allowed to want it!

Let go of this notion of “deserving” things.

In fact, “deserving” is a very bad measure for whether you are allowed to want something, or whether you can have it. Because, so long as we make having something depend on our perception of us deserving it, we operate inside a framework of punishment & reward.

I remember one time my son had written this incredibly long Christmas list filled with all kinds of different Legos. When I saw the list, I noticed myself wanting to say to him, “you know, you might only get one thing,” and I thought, what is that? That impulse in me to tamp down his desire?

Then I remembered that when I was a kid, I used to write long (categorized!) Christmas lists, too. One year, both my mother and father said something that made me feel ashamed of how much I wanted. For the most part, this came from a good place. We were very poor and they wanted me to have realistic expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed. When we do this to our children, we disappoint them now so that they don’t feel disappointed in the future.

The irony is, we do the exact same thing with ourselves all the time. We are so afraid of being disappointed in the future, that we disappoint ourselves right now by not letting ourselves want what we truly want. 

In relationships, the notion of deserving is completely irrelevant. 

With family, friends, and intimate relationships, there’s a tendency to decide whether we will give something of ourselves based on whether we think the other deserves it. Most people don’t say this outright, but the logic is: they haven’t done X, so why should I do it? But the most beautiful & powerful way to relate to others is independent of whether they deserve it or not. 

If we wait for them to deserve something, we diminish the power we have to change the field around us. If the relationship I want to be in is one where we praise each other, I get to do that, regardless of how they behave or whether they deserve it or not. 

For me, it’s deeply empowering to believe I deserve nothing, and the fact that I’m here at all is a miracle. This helps me not get hung up on the idea of what I deserve, because it just doesn’t matter – I get to want it all, regardless.

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