I always wanted a big dog. Not medium-sized, huge. (YUGE, if you will.) The kind of dog that if they tried to sit in your lap, their legs would overflow causing them to constantly re-adjust to avoid falling off and sacrificing their sacred sitting place. They’d be blissfully unaware of the 100+ pounds of furry mammal they’d be trying to cramp into less than 20 sq inches of space. Color didn’t matter, nor did breed. Growing up we always had the best dog breed: mutts. They’d roam around the farm blissfully and nap between the trees in the shade from the grove surrounding the property. My fondest memories growing up with dogs being anytime I’d go for a run; they’d run loyally beside me down the empty gravel road, without prompting, leashes or training, for miles. If you were having fun, they sure as heck made sure they were coming along. Who needs to run with music when you have three dogs sprinting from ditch to ditch, chasing each other, playing with child-like abandon then looking up at you with their best tongue-out grin? Yes, my love affair with big ol’ goons-of-a-dog started young. I always wanted a dog that fit my checklist: big, athletic, able to run at least 8 miles at a time, guard dog, etc. etc.
The Dog I Didn’t Want…
Today, I find myself with Chuck. If you follow along with my social media or see me out in public at any given time, you’ve seen my dog and are now wondering how you missed the detour sign for “Small Dog Ahead. Please take another route.”. (Me too.) If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, Chuck is a black, shaggy yet wiry haired pup weighing in at an un-athletic 33-ish pounds. He’s a…. unique…. mix of breeds that a doggie DNA test claims is part Mini Schnauzer, Coonhound, Australian Shepherd and some more of what they call “unidentifiable trace breeds”. He is not big, athletic is not the first adjective I’d use to describe him, he most definitely cannot run 8 miles at a time, and as far as guard dog goes, well, most people aren’t intimidated by dogs that barely reach knee-level. Chuck is the kind of dog that if I throw a ball for him, he’ll either: A) knock down the ball then return somewhere else to get pets or a nap or B) pick up the ball then take it to it back to his dog bed where he’ll then shoot you a look that says what I can only interpret as, “Hey crazy lady. Stop throwing my stuff around.” (Touché Chuck, touché.) At first glance, he’s nearly the opposite of my checklist. And I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world.
While getting a dog may seem to some like, “Well, whatever dog you get it’s still a dog so you got what you wanted, right?” Kind of. To a dog lover, each individual dog is, as each breed and size and age is, incredibly different. I was closed off to the idea that a yippie dog (my dad’s affectionate name for small dogs that can make the most annoying barking noises that pierce your eardrums) could be for me until I was sort of slapped across the face with one. (Figuratively y’all.)
The Things you Want…or Want to Want
We’re quick to close ourselves off from things we think we don’t want or couldn’t possibly be interested in. There lies the irony. We’re an incredibly active people, generally; whether that’s religiously searching through archives of cult classic horror films to religiously following the advice of your yoga teacher who somehow has a six-pack yet never looks like she’s breaking a sweat. The former may shun a Nicolas Sparks movie without ever watching a minute of it; the latter may spot a jogger out the window of the yoga studio and immediately think how deranged and tired the runner looks, dripping with sweat, wearing leggings that the yogi can identify instantly as definitely not Lululemon brand. Agree or disagree, for most of one’s life they know what they want; or at least what they want to want. Wants aren’t needs though nor are they always our reality. How many times have we wanted something, myself included, only to see later down the line it was not what we needed. (Praise the Lord I didn’t end up in Minne-snow-ta…*ba bum tsss*….like I was hoping I would post-college.) Here we are, a set of people often not knowing quite what they want to do with their lives. Yet we are very actively in pursuit of our wants.
When Do I Get the Manual
Wants are not intrinsically bad; wanting something, whether tangible or not, can signal that you’re dreaming or hoping. Often we pour ourselves into the things we want, trading free time or sleep for hard work and long hours. Other times it’s as simple as sacrificing some spare change. But, our wants don’t always align with our needs. If wants and needs were always the same, we wouldn’t need two different words for them. If they were the same, we wouldn’t spend as much time as we currently do agonizing about the decisions we make in our lives and wondering if we made the right choices. We all hope our path and decisions are true reflections of our needs and not just desires, but alas, hindsight is 20/20. Maybe you’re luckier than most and you have lived a relatively charmed and/or surprising life where your wants so far have come to fruition, and upon reflection, they were also what you needed. Most us don’t fall into that camp. Our wants have been struggles to achieve and needs are something we convince ourselves we have achieved upon reflection. From painful break-ups to health issues to family woes and on, it’s difficult to accept that maybe any of those circumstances are something we need in our life, that we’ll learn from it…because we sure as hell don’t want it and it sure as hell doesn’t seem like something we deserve in life. There’s a reverse to this as well. From acceptance into a top-ranked college, returned romantic interest from crushes, moving to the city you always dreamed up, we sometimes get what we want only to find out it was not what we needed or dreamed it would be. Where do we land when there’s a haze of uncertainty that can paralyze even the most pragmatic individuals into a semi-permanent state of peril and indecision? Pragmatists and idealists alike can struggle between wants and needs, mostly because we’re all more opinionated and stubborn than we care to admit or accept.
Obviously, if we knew exactly what we needed in our lives, we’d do it. If each day or week or year you were hand delivered an agenda on how to live your life in order to get what you need, you’d most likely follow it. The envelope comes confirming a college acceptance to the university you’ve wanted to attend since you were young, then immediately after you receive another letter telling you, “Hey! Don’t go there. It will not live up to your dreams, and if you go, you’ll transfer after a year.” You’re sitting around with your buddies badmouthing Kansas and “the hicks and rednecks” that live there when immediately you’re passed a note that reads, “You should move to Kansas City next month. You’ll meet the woman you’re going to marry and land a job that will make you happier than you can imagine.” But how boring would that be? Unachieved wants and achieved wants alike teach us; we learn from them if we take the time to do so.
Chasing Wants and Hoping for Needs
When I started writing this I wasn’t sure of where I was going with it, what point I was trying to make; was it “you can’t always get what you want”, “don’t judge what you don’t know”, “never say never”, “find the silver lining in not getting what you want”, etc.? Getting what you need is sort of all those things combined though. Wants versus needs gets complicated, especially when everyone’s lives, backgrounds, situations, goals come from a vast range of places. It’s not as simple as “Go out and try every hobby ever with the hopes that one of them will stick!” or “Hey, life is random and will give you what you deserve or need so don’t sweat it.” As with anything in life, there is a balance between the two, yet a fine line dividing them. Treating needs like wants and vice versa is dangerous. Dwell too much on wants and you’ll never be happy or content with what you have. Focus too much on needs and you’ll always feel like something is missing in your life, that you’re missing out on life’s full potential. Neither is pleasant and I find it hard to believe either is yours, or mine, true purpose.
Ultimately, your life is a shrine to your meaning and potential. We hold the power to chase our wants and dreams and desires while reflecting on the past and present circumstances to assess our needs. Just as our lives change quickly, so do our wants and needs. I urge you to never-say-never, search for that silver lining to a tricky situation, don’t reject what you don’t understand, and sometimes accept that you don’t always know best. I’m sure trying to. Chuck may not be the dog I thought I wanted and dreamed of for years, but he’s the best damn dog for this time in my life. If I hadn’t searched through the smaller sized pups at the shelter, and limited myself to looking at what I thought I wanted, I never would have found my best friend. Imma throw that cliché out there you’ve been hoping I wouldn’t: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”. The result of not getting what you want ain’t always an adorable, lovable companion. But I think it can still be something you need.