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.”
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!