People, like the characters that we write about, follow similar rules. That’s the foundation of storytelling, we base them on things we already know.
So, like those characters, us humans have a want and a need. Many people confuse what we want with what we need. Do you want this new phone, or do you really need it? Is your current one so broken that it warrants an upgrade, or is it just because this model is shiny and new and you won’t feel as left out if you get it?
In the stories that we tell, they end when the characters find what they need in the process of trying to get what they want. In Pixar’s Soul, the lead character Joe finds what he needs when he is given what he wants.
Throughout the story, we are shown what Joe wants. He is a musician and he wants to preform. He finally gets the stone rolling when he is offered a chance to preform with the jazz legend Dorothea Williams. However, he dies on the process of going home. He goes on an adventure and eventually manages to make it back to the land of the living. He nails it home that, once he does this, his life will truly begin. That this one moment will make everything make sense.
And he nails it. There’s no doubt that Joe is a talented musician and he would outperform himself every show.
But as the performance wraps up and the audience leaves, Joe is left feeling lost.
“So, what happens next?” he asks Dorothea at the end of the night.
“We come back tomorrow night and do it all again,” Dorothea replies.
“It’s just I’ve been waiting on this day for my entire life. I thought I’d feel different,” he tells her.
I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, “I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.”Dorothea Williams, Soul
“The ocean?” says the older fish, “That’s what you’re in right now.”
“This?” says the younger fish, “This is water. What I want is the ocean.”
When I first heard this, I had an idea of what that might mean, but I wasn’t sure how to articulate it. It’s a knowing feeling. You waited for years for this one specific moment to happen, or this one thing to be given to you, so that your life would finally make sense. That it would fix whatever problems you’ve been having.
Or, maybe, you’ve already got the thing that you’ve wanted all along.
On the Spotify podcast Soul Stories, Soul co-writer and director Pete Docter recounts a story told to him by Trent Reznor.
[Reznor] said, “I felt as a musician, boy, if I could someday just play a stadium show, that would mean that I have made it.” He said somehow it would fix him and make everything make sense. And what happened was, instead, he plays the show, it’s great, and everybody has lives and they went home. And he’s left there going, “Wait, I thought that was supposed to be the thing that put it all in place, and it didn’t.”Pete Docter, Soul co-writer and director on Spotify podcast Soul Stories
Many people think that if they can do that one thing, or get that one thing, all of their problems are going to be fixed. Life would finally mean something, and they finally get to really live. But that’s the problem. You’re forcing yourself to think that you haven’t started living at all just because you haven’t reached a singular goal. As Michael from Lessons from the Screenplay puts it: “Attaching your purpose in life to a goal will not bring you permanent happiness even if you achieve it, and in the meantime, you’ll miss out on all the life happening around you.”
Well, why does that matter? I’m not doing a deep-dive into Soul and its character portrayal, nor am I giving advice on how to differentiate wants and needs. What I’m trying to say is that, maybe by getting what you want, you also get what you need.
Instead of finding what you need like Joe does, you get the ammunition to achieve it — or, perhaps, you’ve already achieved it by getting what you want. It might defeat the whole purpose of setting up the whole, “you can’t live if you set your happiness on one single thing,” spiel, but hear me out: they aren’t mutually exclusive.
People, as my professor likes to constantly say, contain multitudes. We are living contradictions. We aren’t, unfortunately, as forward and black-and-white as most characters. What we want and what we need won’t come to fruition or to light at the same time. Some people really don’t realize their life’s purpose or start living until they are well into their twilight years, others have already found themselves in their teens and have been living life to the fullest ever since.
There is no limit to what we can or cannot do just because of how we feel at any given moment. Very recently (or, very soon, at the time of writing), I have passed the two-month mark of getting what I’ve wanted for over ten years. I’ve always joked about how I had 99 problems and testosterone would solve, like, 98 of them. It’s not entirely wrong and I had the little foresight of not having the one thing eliminate all my problems, but I was still basing a lot of my happiness on it.
As the years wore on, I realized that testosterone won’t solve all of my problems. Sure, it solved 96 of them. I can talk now, without worrying what others might call me. I don’t have to worry about certain things every month. I’m not constantly wondering when I can start treatment. My self-confidence is rising, I’m happier, I’m finally who I am.
But I still have some anxiety with speaking over the phone. I doubt I can book something on a phone call, though the opportunity hasn’t come up yet. I can’t really go to the men’s toilet without freaking out — even the thought of it worries me.
Those are the realizations that I’ve had after getting confirmation on treatment. I’ve never thought of it beforehand. The only thing I worried about was my chest and surgery, and technically stuff like legal documents and official accounts. Though I was worrying about the right things, there are things that I’ve never realized were problems bigger than the solution.
I knew my mental health was another bag of cats, but I’ve always held the thought that the replacement therapy would help alleviate some of the problems.
That wasn’t true, either. Even though I only recently got my treatment (back in May), I’ve been in a mentally good place (generally speaking) ever since late 2018. I was happy with who I was, what I was supposed to do, and felt like a proper part of a community. Others around me didn’t question me. They accepted me.
Because I realized I cannot depend on others’ confirmation for happiness. I am who I am, and they can’t change that just because they don’t agree with it. Who cares if they’re bigots? Who cares if they don’t want to properly address me? They’re just going to be wrong and I will laugh at them because they’ve made a fool out of themselves, even if I am the only one in the room that sees it.
I’ve been living as a man online ever since 2012, and I’ve been trying my best to do the same in real life since 2014. I finally got a proper chance to start when I went to England in 2017 and it really changed me.
I didn’t need testosterone to solve all my problems. I could solve them myself. I just needed to believe that I can — and I did.
Still, I got the final push to get what I wanted in early 2021. And, pardon me for saying this, that is when my life truly began. It’s not that I’ve not been living — I was, a hundred percent — it’s the fact that I got this one final thing that marks it as the beginning of the journey, even if my journey started from the day, years ago, I decided to fully address the issue to myself.
That’s all it is. It’s a marking point that you’ve unconsciously set for yourself. It doesn’t make any sense when you write it down since, logically, if your life has already began, you can’t begin it again just because you got that one thing. It’s the confirmation, you know? It’s the clarity and the cherry on top. And most importantly, it’s for you.
You know yourself best. Go get what you want and, in turn, you’ll find out what you need.
And, remember, we contain multitudes.