A Lesson From My Dad

One of the best lessons I learned from my dad is pretty simple, but yet so profound. He told me to replace the words “have to” with “want to.”

My mom and dad!

One night he was driving me home from a late night track meet in high school. I started to cry because it was 10pm and I still had to write an essay for class the next day. I was feeling really overwhelmed with SAT prep, the track team, art classes, and homework. I was getting about 4-5 hours of sleep on average.

He asked me why I was beating myself up about an essay when I was choosing to write it.I thought he was crazy. “It’s not a choice, dad. I have to write it.”


“Because I have to get an A.”


“Because I have to get good grades to get into a good college.”


“Because I have to go to go to an Ivy League school to get a good job.”

He shook his head. “You want a good job, so you want to get good grades to get into the school you want. You don’t have to do any of that. The only things you have to do is eat, sleep, and breath. Everything else is a choice. Think about what you really want in the long term, and then decide if it’s worth it to hand that essay in late, or if you really want to work on it tonight.”

I did end up finishing the paper that night, but with a new sense of pride. Recognizing that it was my choice, and that writing the paper was what I wanted to do, not just an obligation, changed my outlook completely.

I constantly remind myself that everything I do is a choice that I want to make. I want to pay my taxes because I want to be a good citizen and I don’t want to go to jail. I want to clean my house because I like the way it looks. I want to clean the kitty litter because I don’t like the smell. I don’t have to do any of that – I want to.

Try switching ‘have to’ with ‘want to’ for one day, and let me know what you think!


  1. Great philosophy. The power behind a positive mindset is incredible. The same can be said about the power of a negative mindset (look what it does to people). You’re right; nobody accomplishes things simply because they ‘have to’ but because they ‘want to’ and have the drive and determination to do it.

    I gotta know, though, on the humorous side: can the same mindset be had about kids eating vegetables? I mean, when I was a kid, I lived off candy and chicken mcnuggets. Nowadays I use a load of hot sauce or crushed red pepper on vegetables… not because I have to, but because I want to. ๐Ÿ˜›


  2. There is an old saying about life being 10% about the choices we have to make and 90% about our attitude regarding those choices. Your dad gave you a long-lasting gift with this message. I love when we discover the true wisdom within our parents lessons.


  3. I’ve long believed in the power of choice and its positive benefits. What is just as great is the fact that you recognized this lesson from your Dad; it’s something of him that you will always have.


  4. I thought I left a comment when you wrote this, but apparently not. But I love this reminder. It’s easy to blame something or someone else instead of taking ownership of our choices. The bonus is it does create a much more positive attitude. Great post…and thanks, Tracy’s dad! ๐Ÿ™‚


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