don’t turn your “want tos” into “have tos”

NOTE: Welcome back to MML! I’ve definitely needed the time I’ve taken off to recharge and prepare for 2011. I have some housekeeping to do here a bit later on over the next week. In the meantime, I’d like to jump right into one of the best lessons I’ve learned over this holiday break. Enjoy!

On December 28th at 6:18PM I sat on the Orange Line train at Midway waiting to return home after a trip to see my family in Pennsylvania. Due to the snow storm that hit the east coast over Christmas, flights were delayed and my entire trip (with a layover in Minneapolis) lasted about 10 hours.

As I sat in the train I had a mini-breakdown. Immediately after landing in Chicago there was a daunting list of things to do over the next six days.

  • I had to go home that night and eat dinner with my boyfriend, Mr. Lively.
  • I had to unpack and clean my apartment.
  • I had to prepare for my best friend and her boyfriend to stay with me for a few days – they were arriving the following afternoon.
  • I had to go for a run before my friends arrived.
  • I had to entertain and hang out with my friend and her boyfriend for several days.
  • I had to go to a Black Keys concert as a Christmas present on Thursday night.
  • I had to get ready for New Years Eve and go to a nice dinner at a friend’s house.
  • I had to clean my apartment after my friends left.

I felt overwhelmed, tired, and dismayed at the mountain of tasks that needed to be done. To be honest, I practically had tears in my eyes.

Eventually, I started to reflect on the to-do list that scared me so much. Everything on the list was something I had been excited about for weeks. In a matter of hours I had turned everything I wanted to do over my holiday break into a set of tasks that needed to be managed, controlled, and completed. At no point on that train was I recognizing how incredibly fun each item on its own would be. I wanted to eat dinner with Mr. Lively. I wanted to have my friends visit for a few days. I wanted to see the Black Keys in concert. I wanted to clean my apartment, run, and celebrate NYE with friends.

I had taken everything that I wanted to do and turned them into things I had to do. I had turned fun into work.

At that point, I managed to take a step back and recognize how fortunate I was that Mr. Lively was picking up dinner for me. I also asked my friends to arrive a few hours later to give myself more time to prepare for their visit. And I started to reconnect with how grateful I was for the amazing holiday break.

I’d like to say that this is the only time that I’ve ever taken my “want tos” and turned them into a huge list of “have tos.” But that is not the case. I think there is a good chance that we all may live much of our lives swapping “want” for “have” in our vocabulary and attitudes. Perhaps by taking a step back and looking at our perspective a bit more we might be able to restore many of our “obligations” back to what they were in the first place: fun.

Free Desktop Wallpaper

The wonderful Kendi has inspired me to do a series of desktop wallpapers for MML. This month’s wallpaper is the graphic above (Don’t Turn Your Want Tos into Have Tos) – a great reminder was we start a new year with fresh intentions.

You can download the full desktop size image here.

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  1. Jenn

    You are so right about this. I often feel like I’ve become a victim of my to-do lists and so focused on everything that “has” to get done that I’m not present for the things that are far more important. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sometimes feels this way!

  2. Welcome back! I took a little blog break too and it was wonderful.

    I’m definitely guilty of doing this as well but hadn’t really recognized it. It’s always when I neglect to pencil in some down-time – it’s usually a good sign that I’m overbooking myself, even with good things.

    Love the idea of the desktop backgrounds! xo Maggie

  3. i ABSOLUTELY do this. it is something i frequently get frustrated with myself for, but i’ve never been able to reflect on it as well as you did here. thanks for this post, jess. i’m downloading the wallpaper on this one!

  4. great message. i think i do this too. when you have 6 days to go to 12+ gatherings (my holiday marathon every year), it’s easy to get into a rut. i don’t want my visits to be ticks off the “to do” list, but somehow the pace changes my attitude for the worse.

    i’ll keep what you said in mind.

    happy new year.

  5. Jill

    boyfriend!?!? I like the sounds of that… and I love that you call him “Mr.” so sweet!

    This is so true, I do this with my kids A LOT. I HAVE to take them to the zoo, or the gym or the park or watch a movie with them or just play legos. But wait, those are FUN things! A great lesson indeed!

  6. It is so easy to turn things we genuinely want to do into a source of stress. I know I can relate. Here’s to slowing down and recognizing all the GOOD. 🙂

    P.S. Love the idea of the wallpapers!!

  7. Emmy

    I think this is great! And a good attitude to have even with the not-so-fun “have to’s” in our life.

    Just this morning I had a list of things I had to do, for example – I have call my sons doctor to schedule an x-ray for his foot, take him to get said x-ray and then to a podiatrist and eventually get inserts for his shoes so he can walk pain free. Whew, I’m tired just typing that! But instead of feeling frustrated by these types of “have to’s” I’m choosing to be thankful my son has an amazing doctor and that after all the appointments and running around are said and done, my son will live a healthier life.

    I love the monthly wallpaper idea!!

  8. Samara

    Great post, I’ve been going through some difficult times recently and I immediately checked your blog for your inspiring words. Thanks for the lessons and reminders of what’s important in life 🙂

  9. Perfectly put, sometimes by making your passion your profession you run the risk of turning it into drudgery. It’s important to recognize that position, in many ways, that’s just perspective, you can control it.

  10. I think that is amazing advice – I’ve definitely fallen victim to that a lot lately, but I couldn’t really identify the problem. A change in perspective is definitely needed!

  11. Sara

    Good call. I often add things like this to my To Do list and then it feel just like a chore, right there next to “clean the bathroom” hahaha

  12. This is the best advice for me right now! I just did this last week and got myself all worked up over nothing. This is a great reminder that some things we do are things we want, but may just get lost in the shuffle. Happy 2011!!

  13. Well put!

    I guess when you think about it, there are no “have tos.” I always have a huge list of things I “have to” do, but I put them on that list voluntarily, because I want to do them (or at least I want them done.)

    I’m slowly learning to regard at my to-do list as a list of glittering prizes, rather than a list of annoying obligations. There’s a reason that stuff is on the list: because doing it is rewarding, and because I *want* to do it.

  14. cindy

    Yep. Im guilty as well. I will find myself volunteering to have a dinner at my house, and making other dates and plans only to have the day roll around and start wishing I didnt have any plans at all. For me, it is because I like the feeling of having my days open with no commitments. I dont want to “HAVE TO” . period.

  15. Oh yes, I was nodding right along with you as I read this post – I often get so excited planning things (parties, outings, trips, projects, etc., etc.) that I can easily go overboard and end up stressing myself out instead of having a ball as intended! It is so important to be mindful and bring ourselves back into the enjoyment of the moment! xo Laura
    Oh, and happy New Year!

  16. Alexa

    As usual, wonderful post Jess. I feel like I have a habit of doing just that and, thanks to your post, I’ll be more conscious of taking a step back and switching my perspective.

  17. Great thoughts! I have found myself doing that before, and started working on shifting my thinking of it’s opportunity not obligation! So that has helped a lot when I get on overwhelm of al there is to do, read, create and so on !

  18. Jess

    @ Alina,

    Yes, I think over time, Mr. Lively will get mentioned more :).

    Have a great day,

  19. Rachel

    This is something I am guilty of doing frequently…. but it has never occurred to me that this is what I am doing. Something to think about!

  20. Kelly

    I love love love this post. I totally agree with it. I often turn my want tos into have tos, even though I know I’m doing it. Thanks for this post : ) and thanks for the wallpaper!! What a great idea, I’m excited for future ones : )

  21. Stacey

    oh such a great and timely post! You are certainly not alone in the “have to’s…”

    Thank you for reminding me that I am blessed and lucky. 🙂

  22. Megan

    This is such a great post. As I started reading, I was thinking to myself that I should make that into a sign and hang it in my office… but you made keeping the reminder in front of me super easy. Thank you!

  23. Alicia

    LOVE THIS POST. Found it via the link in today’s post and, unfortunately, can very closely relate to the predicament you found yourself in.

    Thank you for the reminder. I’ll take it to heart.

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