Russell Bishop Blog

#10 The Have to – Choose to Dilemma

Have to, Choose to:

Let’s consider things in life that you have to do: what kinds of things can you think of that you absolutely must do, that you have to do, things over which you have no choice. Part of our definition of “have to” includes the notion that it is something that you actually do and you don’t like doing it or you don’t feel good about doing it.

When I ask this question in groups that I work with, I often hear things like the following:

  • Pay income taxes
  • Die
  • Take out the garbage
  • Go to work
  • Get up in the morning
  • Deal with other drivers
  • Pay the bills
  • Be nice to rude people
  • Etc

We will argue that you don’t have to pay income taxes. There are lots of alternatives. For example, don’t earn enough to have to pay income taxes. Go to jail. Do you get the idea? Paying taxes is something you actually choose to do – it’s just that you don’t like doing it so you call it something that someone makes you do.

So who are those people or institutions that you make you do things?

  • My parents
  • My children
  • My boss
  • My co-workers
  • Other drivers
  • The IRS
  • The local government
  • The TSA
  • My husband or wife
  • Etc

And what are those things that they make you do?

  • Pay income taxes
  • Take out the garbage
  • Make dinner (or breakfast, or lunch)
  • Go to work
  • Get up in the morning
  • Deal with other drivers
  • Pay the bills
  • Be nice to rude people
  • Etc

Do you have to take out the garbage? No, not really – it’s just that you may prefer taking out the garbage to the consequences of not taking it out. Do you have to go to work? No, not really – it’s just that you prefer the paycheck that comes from going to work than the zero income that comes with not working. Or, or, or.

I’m sure you are getting this: it comes down to preference. I prefer taking out the garbage to living in the filth; I prefer paying taxes to being so poor that I don’t owe anything; I prefer dealing with bad drivers to taking the bus; I prefer going to work to being unemployed.

And what does preference imply? How about choice? If I prefer A to B, and I do A, who made the choice? For most of us, it is clear that I made the choice; for some, it still feels like someone else made me do it, that I had no choice, and therefore I have to do it.

It might help to take this one step deeper if you are still struggling with have to vs. choose to. It may not be that you prefer working to not working as much as it may be that you prefer the consequences of working to the consequences of not working. “Yeah, but I don’t like my job.”

So, who chose that job? “Not me – I had to take it.” Oh yeah, well why? “I had no choice – I have to eat and feed my kids.” Ummmm, I see. Pretty tough little loop, isn’t it.

So how do you get out of the loop? And, by the way, I’m not denying that you may not like your job or boss or dealing with the kinds of people associated with the job (think customer service at an airline that just cancelled a flight). And, I don’t even deny that you may feel stuck.

However, the question to consider is, “How did I get here in the first place?” If you don’t know, or just generally feel stuck, then we come right back to the Cycle of Improvement. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.

Is your current job something that you always wanted, in the career that you always wanted, in the field you always wanted? The answer could range from “not at all” to “kind of, sort of.”

What does the Cycle of Improvement tell us? The only way to know which fork in the road to Choose is to be clear about your Desired Outcome. If your only thought about Desired Outcome was “I need a job,” then any job will do. If you defined the career or field or specific job more clearly, you may still have only focused on the Symbol side of the equation. If you did not specify the quality of the job, or the qualities you wanted to experience in the job, then you may not have paid enough attention to the Experience you were seeking.

Taken together, Desired Outcome requires clarity about the symbol or substantive elements along with clarity about the quality of experience. As you may have already learned, clarity about the desired quality of experience may be much more important than clarity about the specifics of the job or goal. We will return to this distinction in another chapter devoted specifically to “What do you want?” and how can you get it.

Coming next: some thoughts on Empowerment and the difference between being Victim and Accountable.

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