I was raised to be a quiet, polite, good girl. Of course, nurture alone didn’t form me. As an introvert, it’s entirely my nature to hang back to get the lay of the land and advance slowly. Add to that the fact that I’m big sister to eight brothers and sisters, a wife and mother of two and you get a lifetime of putting others first.

Back when I was a practicing attorney, one of my lawyer friends told me I was the most assertive person she’d ever met. I was shocked, but maybe she was right. When push comes to shove I know how to shove back and my legal career did teach me to curse like a sailor. But, that persona was cultivated to get the job done. It’s not my default.

It never really hit me how hard I found it to say “Yes” to what I wanted until I got breast cancer. Once I became mindful of letting “Yes” into my life, I launched a blog, wrote two books for cancer survivors, got passionate about volunteering and picked up speaking engagements.

Then, the unthinkable happened. I got old enough to get a glimpse of the empty nest.

Sending both of our children to college wasn’t exactly like getting a pink slip. It was more like the premonition that haunts you immediately before getting the ax. But the good news is that the universe is merciful and I was being eased into obsolescence as a full-time nurturer.

With time to think I realized I had just scratched the surface of saying “Yes.” I believed Joseph Campbell when he said, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” But, how do you know what your big adventure is if you don’t ask the bigger question, “What do I want?”

Once I dared to ask the question a lot happened. First, asking the question interrupts the involuntary impulse to automatically consider someone else’s wishes. (Him: “What do you want for dinner? Me: I don’t know, what do you want?) Second, asking the question forces me to actually come up with an answer. (Me: “What do I want for dinner? Hmm, I need a minute to think about it.”)

The beauty of daring to ask what I want is that I get to decide how to act on the answer. Self-awareness brings a choice between standing up for what I want and letting it go. Whatever I decide, I get to create self-satisfaction and luminous generosity, untainted by the resentment of giving in again and again.

Daring to ask “What do I want?” is the Abracadabra! that unleashes magical possibilities.
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I wrote the following a few years after my cancer diagnosis. Like so many other things I jot down, I wrote it to me:

You Deserve to Stand Up For What You Want

How often have you slammed the door against what you want,

because you let fear trump desire?

How many times did you not ask,

because rejection hurts like hell?

How easily have you given in,

because making others happy is safer than finding your own happiness?

Say “Yes” to yourself because it’s what you want,

and that is justification enough.

Take the risk and feel (a bit) guilty.

It won’t kill you.

You and I have survived things much scarier

than saying “Yes” to our desires.

We’ve measured up before,

even as we were falling down.

When push came to shove,

we knew how to (wo)man up!

Which brings us to this question:

Knowing what we have been through and how truly short life is,

how can we even think about stuffing down our desires?

Pull yourself up tall like a mountain, take a deep breath, let it out slowly

and recognize the truth that lives within you:

You are enough.

And you deserve to stand up for what you want.

Do you tend to put others first? I dare you to ask, “What do I want?” It’s a simple question, but you never know where the answer might lead you.

DebbieWoodbury knows we’re all survivors of something. Her “somethings,” include family dysfunction, being laid off, miscarriages, infertility, and cancer. It was surviving cancer that pushed her to stop thinking about writing and actually sit down to do it, resulting in her first blog and two books. Now, she’s moving beyond cancer and leaning into joy (via yoga, mindfulness, gratitude, walking, relationships, interior decorating and all the other “little things” that make life worth living.) Debbie also blogs for The Huffington Post, and is an inspirational speaker, wife, mother, and a former very stressed out attorney. You’ll find Debbie’s first blog about surviving cancer at WhereWeGoNow. To find meditations on creating joy and to sign up for Debbie’s newsletters, click here and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Nicole Pierce.