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


At 6:18pm on December 28th, 2011, 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.

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

wanted to eat dinner with Mr. Lively.

wanted to have my friends visit for a few days.

wanted to see the Black Keys in concert.

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.



Want a little reminder to help you keep things in perspective?

You can download a free desktop wallpaper here.



PS – I’m wrapping up the hotel lobby project this week! I’ll be sharing lots of pics on Instagram if you’d like to see it come together.


{ First shared here. }

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  1. I get like that as well…..any human interaction or responsibility becomes a daunting chore. One thing I’ve learned in entertaining guests is that not every minute has to be some wild and crazy adventure. It’s nice to have a relaxing night in to play cards, watch a movie, get take-out or a pizza. It’s a nice break for the travelers too, just to be able to relax and be in comfy clothes and spend time with friends. I had a long girls weekend with college friends a couple of years ago and Sunday afternoon was nap/quiet reading time. It was so nice.

    1. So true, Amy! You’re right, not all trips need to be jammed pack, nor do they need to be a chore. : )

  2. Totally know how you feel with this one! Have experienced the same thing when there’s too much on my plate! Thanks for the reminder :)!

  3. Hahahaha! It’s like you read my mind! Thank you for this good reminder. I needed it this week!

  4. I so get this. I think too often we think about managing our lives instead of enjoying them, almost as though it would be wrong to enjoy the fun things we’ve planned. Here’s to living with more joy and less urgency!

    1. That’s a great point, managing vs. enjoying. It all really comes down to whether we are living from our intentions vs. outcomes and achievements. We talk a lot about this in Life with Intention Online and you’ve hit the nail on the head. : )

  5. Caitlin Dreger

    well thank you for that. I literally read that with tears in my eyes. This week is very busy for me and I had stopped seeing the joy in the things that I have been so excited about for months.

  6. Kara Tucker

    This was so perfect for right now. I’ve been having so much stress lately about things that I want to do, and this just turned it completely around for me! So far, following your blog has really helped me out! Thank you!

  7. JoAnne Henein

    Thanks Jess! There are a whole lot of things I am feeling the pressure to “have to” do, a world of plans towards results…and some people say it needs to be done in “this amount of time.” But I’m willing to step back and look at if it’s my intention or someone else’s. Is my intuition telling me to take it a step at a time, even OK to make mistakes and have joy in the learning…and results will unfold naturally.

    1. Bravo! So well said and wise. : ) I had to remind myself of this exact thing a whole bunch last week and this weekend. It is a constant process of learning and revisiting, isn’t it?

  8. This is exactly what I needed to read right now – it’s nearly the end of the uni semester and I feel like there are a million and one things I ‘have’ to do. It’s SO easy to lose perspective and reading this post has made me realise that although right now I feel like I ‘have’ to write the law essay I have due in a couple of days it is something that I actually want to do.

    I worked super hard to get into the degree I wanted and it is a HUGE privilege that I am able to get a university education at all. Such a great reminder (and now I’m a little less stressed too).

    Such a great post!

    Sam xx – how to make the most of your twenties

    1. Bravo! That is quite a mindset shift, to go from having to do a paper to wanting to do it? I wish I had that mindset in college myself!

      1. Haha maybe I shouldn’t have said that I ‘want’ to do it, I’m not that amazing haha it’s more like I want the education so I ‘want’ to do the assignment by extension. Putting together a few thousand words on the structure of the private law isn’t really my favourite thing to do haha

        Sam xx – how to make the most of your twenties

  9. Anett

    Great post, which exactly describes my feelings at the moment! My flat is on the market to be sold and there is a long list of DIY type things I want got get done before the open house on Tuesday to improve on the presentation of the flat. I’ve been dreading each and every item that I completely voluntarily put on this list in order to ensure I get a good price for the flat! I’ve also realised that I dread things and put off doing them for days, and it turns out they only take a few minutes to complete. I actually spend more time dreading these tasks than completing them! The human brain is mindboggling and doesn’t make sense at all. At least not mine…

    1. I know, right!? I feel the same way myself sometimes. It can be helpful to create an intention around those kinds of projects that speaks to the values that we have to help us take action from a powerful place, rather than force. Here’s one way to make intentinons:

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