Death and taxes. Growing up, I remember hearing adults say that those were the only two things you couldn’t get out of. And as unpleasant as death and taxes are, in a way the statement gave me a sense of freedom.
Yes, death and taxes are inescapable, but the rest? Totally up to me! I get to decide what matters in my life, and it’s going to be awesome. As I grew up and had children of my own, however, that list started to grow exponentially.
Work, household chores, acquiring stuff, social commitments, climbing some invisible ladder of success, and the list went on and on. It was as though all of a sudden my “have to’s” had gotten to be too much for me to bear.
How can one person handle all this?
I was listening to a podcast recently interviewing two working mothers, and I kept hearing that same phrase over and over. I “have to” throw my kids an extravagant birthday party. I “have to” take this important business trip. I “have to” stay at the office late tonight.
It seems as though I’m not alone.
Why do we constantly add more “have to’s” to our list when they really are optional? Of course there are certain things that are out of our control, but it is much less than we imagine.
We make choices, we decide what our priorities are, and we give up certain things to gain others. Adding more and more to our list of “have to’s” is killing us. Because if everything matters, then nothing matters.
Eliminating the “Have To’s” in Life
With that in mind, I want to share a few ways I’ve tried to eliminate many of the “have to’s” in my life.
1. Replace attempts to control with a recognition of agency.
I constantly have to fight against my desire to control. I know that control is an illusion, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Recently I discovered the concept of agency, and I love how it can change our approach to life.
The definition of agency is the capacity to make choices and the power to act on them. Although I can’t control outcomes, I do have agency.
I can think about something I want, and act on that thought to make it a reality. This can apply in the smallest areas and also the largest goals you have in life. You may not be able to control outcomes, but you do have the power to decide and act.
2. Recover your intrinsic worth.
You must recover your sense of worth outside of anything you do or achieve. Everything in your schedule doesn’t just happen—it was put there. When we forget our worth, we forget what really matters to us.
We let others define our values and priorities. We begin to say yes to everything, and wonder why we are left so exhausted and drained. We don’t value our own time and abilities, and therefore sell them to the lowest bidder. Knowing your worth is the start of changing this pattern.
3. Picture how you want things to be. Say it out loud, and write it down.
I recently cleaned out my bookshelf and found notes from a life coaching certification course that I took about six years ago. As I thumbed through my notes on how I wanted my life to look in five years, I was awestruck.
Almost everything I had written down had come to pass. I couldn’t believe it, but it was right there in front of me, plain as day. When you have a clear picture of what you want, say it out loud and write it down. There is power in externalizing those thoughts and dreams.
When you have a clear picture of where you want to be, you will be more focused on getting there. The real “have to’s” will become much more clear.
4. Be honest with yourself about your choices.
Choosing one thing is saying no to another. We are finite beings with limited time, energy, and resources. When I was listening to the mothers on the podcast I mentioned earlier, it was obvious that they were feeling the pressure to choose between their startup company or their families, and that pressure is real.
I feel it every day. But the beauty of life lies in its finitude—everything is fleeting, so everything is more precious. Living in light of that reality helps us to choose what matters most in each moment.
For me, one moment that is my family, and the next it is my business. Being honest about my own motivations and clear about what I may be giving up helps me to know that although my choices are never perfect, they reflect what matters to me and the kind of life I want to have.
5.Replace “have to” with “get to”.
“Have to” is more a state of mind than a list of duties. Approaching life with a sense of gratitude can switch so many of the “have to’s” around.
I love this quote from Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
As silly as this may sound, some of the more mundane responsibilities in our lives have much to teach us if we will slow down long enough to listen. I used to want to use all my power to escape the mundane, and since becoming a mother, I have witnessed some of the most magical moments in our everyday.
As you begin to eliminate some of the more burdensome “have to’s” from your list, remember that some of them may be there to help build your character in the long term.
Here’s to defining our “have to’s” on our own terms, and keeping a sense of gratitude and wonder along the way.