You can’t always get what you want

Mick Jagger was popular when I was a teen, and he was my favorite rock star. When he sang, You can’t always get what you want but…you get what you need, I knew he got me.

Growing up, I rarely got what I wanted. I was the invisible, second child in my family, and mostly what I wanted was to be seen.

By high school, I had become accustomed to being invisible and resigned to it. I had given up on wanting much of anything. Instead, I tried to make peace with what I got and worked on readjusting my expectations to meet my reality. I had realized that the way to get what I wanted was to want what I got.

My lowered expectations meant I was rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. I learned to accept what was and tried to make the best of every situation.

It has not always been easy.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” was a thought I had early on in my friend Jim’s illness. When we first became friends, some twenty-five years earlier, I could not possibly have foreseen that this was how we would end up—Jim having brain cancer, moving in with me after his surgery and me becoming his primary caregiver. Those were very difficult days—taking care of him and knowing that he was going to die soon, all the while keeping my full-time job. It was not what I would have wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to step up to help him and it was my pleasure to care for him. It was just not the way I would have wanted things to be—not the cancer nor the caregiving nor the dying.

But I learned so much from that experience—about Jim and myself and cancer. I became much better at asking for help and accepting what was offered. I learned to let go, and I discovered a deep well of courage that I could dip into for Jim’s sake. Perhaps most important for me was that I learned I was the kind of person who would step up—something we only find out when we are actually presented the opportunity.

Lots of people have life experiences they didn’t sign up for—accidents, illnesses, lost jobs, betrayals—just to name a few. Accepting the situation, adjusting expectations and creating a new normal are key to being able to learn from those experiences and move on.

Someone recently said to me, “I am grateful for my cancer because it has taught me what is important in my life.” It was a reminder that we don’t always choose our teachers, and our teachers are often those very things we wouldn’t want.

That Mick was a smart man. We might not get what we want, but if we try, we can see that we got what we needed.




8 thoughts on “You can’t always get what you want

  1. Jane Banik

    Very inspirational blog Madeline! I found that my paths took me on many unexpected journeys. I feel fortunate in that my choices along those paths revealed strengths I didn’t know that I had. They also revealed weaknesses that I didn’t know that I had. Fortunately the strengths outweighed the weaknesses.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    Thanks Jane, for sharing. I think the same is true for me regarding strengths and weaknesses. It is almost as though I didn’t know my strengths until situations brought them to light.

  3. annemarielom

    So very true. Katie Byron’s book, Loving What Is, taught me a powerful lesson while my mom was dying of cancer. I highly recommend it to confirm exactly what you are saying!

  4. Barbara Baxter

    My dear Madeline, I found myself following your poignant blog by clicking on, perhaps “related articles” when I was reading the blog posts of one of my daughter’s friends. The reason I am writing is to lead you to his blog in case you are unaware that he passed away on November 22, 2015 – the day of your blog post that I am replying to. Justin is his name and he was with Jesuit Volunteer Corps last year in Detroit, where my daughter is currently with JVC. I can tell you were deeply connected, and I am so sorry for the loss his death leaves for his family, friends, and the people who he had served and would have served. Please accept my sincerest prayers for you and anyone who now must grieve the loss of such a deeply spiritual, energetic, charismatic, full of life and promise, gifted human being. I hope you see the prophetic image of his profile picture on his Facebook page – it was taken November 21st and he changed it to his profile picture that day – the day before he died. Finally, the photo seems a reassurance to those left behind that his beautiful life of faith and humility has already lead him to salvation and eternal peace. “May perpetual light shine upon him.” In love and faith in Jesus Christ, Barb Baxter

    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Dear Barb, I am happy you found this piece. I knew Justin and was at his funeral today. I probably also have met your daughter since I co-facilitated the JVC fall day of reflection in October. Justin’s death leaves a hole in many people’s lives. He was such a kind, caring, thoughtful person. His desire to do God’s will motivated him and grounded him. Although Justin was only in Detroit for 15 months, he touched many people; the church today was full. I am consoled by the words of St. John Chrysostom: Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.
      I carry Justin with me and hold his family and friends in prayer.


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