You Really Don’t Have To

“I’m sorry, I have to finish this today, so I can’t help you.” “I have to go shopping on Saturday; I can’t make the trip.” “I have to get a more paying job so that I can pay back the mortgage.” We seem to live in a world of “have to”. Many of us live in democracies, and we claim to have the freedom to do whatever we want. We rarely do. Instead of doing what we want, we do what we “have to”. At least, that is what the words we use indicate.

Making “have to” excuses

In fact, we often use the magical words “have to” as an excuse for not doing something we feel we should. You feel that you really should visit your parents more often, but because you “have to” do other things you can’t visit them. You feel you should take better care of yourself and exercise more, but because you “have to” go shopping you can’t.

“You are willingly giving up your freedom by introducing artificial ‘have to’ constraints.”

It gets worse. You use the “have to” language to trample all over your dreams. You really like your job, but it doesn’t pay particularly well, and you really “have to” get more money to afford more stuff. So, you move to a job that is killing you but pays more. In your mind, you have no choice.

You are willingly giving up your freedom by introducing artificial constraints. You “have to” make more money, you “have to” have a new car, you “have to” watch your favorite TV show.

You are becoming a slave to your language. Either you are making excuses for not doing what you believe you should. Alternatively, you are making excuses for not being satisfied with your life.

Advantages of “I want to”

There is a better way. All that you need to do is to change the words you are using and stop lying to yourself. You don’t “have to” do anything. You should always “want to”. “I want to visit the art gallery, …and I will not visit my parents this weekend.” “I want to get the new car I dream about from childhood, …and I’m willing to make some sacrifices.” “I want to travel around the world, and I need to save some money.”

“I want to” are powerful words that will do two things for you. First, they will create clarity. You start being honest with yourself and the world around you. You don’t need to make up excuses for why you don’t want to do something. You clearly state what your priority is, and that is what you focus on.

Second, “I want to” is much more positive language than “have to”. It helps you to feel more in control of your life, and ultimately you are going to be more satisfied. You are not a victim of the environment. You don’t “have to” do things. You are your own master who “wants to” do what you are doing. You may still decide to have the dreadful job to make more money, but you will feel better about it.

“I have to do this miserable high-paying job because I have kids I must take care of,” is a complaint about how miserable your life is and if you could, you would change it.

“I want to have this miserable high-paying job so I can provide for my family,” gives you purpose. You love your family, and this is a way you can care for them. You wouldn’t change this for a world.

That’s who I am

“I have to” words have a similarly sinister sibling, “that’s who I am,” or, “that’s me.” These words are another lie that we enjoy telling the world and to ourselves. We argue for our weaknesses as if they were something to be proud of. You yell at your co-worker and then finish by saying, “sorry for yelling, but that’s who I am.” And you believe that this statement makes it somehow right. It doesn’t.

You are yet again late for your meeting and when you finally arrive you comment it by, “I know I’m always late, that’s just me.” Being you is not an excuse. Moreover, if it really is you, why not change it and make the new you be always on time? There is no inherent value in the excessive need of being you. You are just blaming your tardiness on some disassociated version of you. You are blaming this imaginary person for your weaknesses. And that is holding you back.

There is nothing that prevents you from inventing a new you. All that you need to do is to say to yourself, “I want to be seen as someone who is always on time.” And then stop using the “it’s who I am” excuse. Consider the advantages. Others will see you as more reliable, will respect you more, and you will grow and become a bit better person. It will still be you. The new you.

Stop apologizing for who you are

Just be careful not to overdo it. If you look at the Western culture, some things are not acceptable and that you should change. You should redefine who you are in situations like being late or yelling at people. These are disrespectful and hurt you and the relationships you have with other people. They are things you weren’t born with. No one is born with a gene that says, “be always late.”

Then there are some traits and personal characteristics that are completely acceptable from a personal perspective, yet the culture is somehow punishing them, so you tend to apologize for them. I have often seen people with lower self-esteem starting their sentences with “I’m sorry, I have nothing to contribute.” “I’m sorry, can I make a suggestion?”

There is nothing to be sorry about. There is no need to apologize for having or not having an idea. In these situations, you are apologizing and feeling guilty for who you are, and that reinforces your low self-esteem. There is no need to apologize in these situations. It just makes your idea less credible.

What I would like you to take from this article is to consider what sort of language you are using when talking to yourself and the people around you. By changing the words, you will eventually change how you feel about life.

You will change your attitude towards your fortunes and others. By thinking deep about who you are, you may discover that you want to be someone slightly different. You may also discover that you are very happy with who you are and there is no need to apologize for it to the world. We are all unique. Be proud of that.


What is your take on the power of the language? Are you using some words or phrases that are holding you back? Do you see people around you to be miserable because of their limited beliefs and the negative self-talk.

Photo: geralt /

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Categories: Communication, Life

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1 reply


  1. Don’t Let Others Program Your Life – The Geeky Leader

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