Here’s a question to ask yourself that might reveal more than you expect: What’s keeping you from making progress toward your big career goals?
What’s holding you back from pursuing the perfect job? Or preventing you from starting that business you’ve always dreamed about? Or thwarting the progress you’d like to make?
If you find your answers to these questions begin with the words, “I have to,” it’s time to look at your reasons from a different angle.
Don’t let your choices hold you back
Here’s the tough-love truth about the “have tos” in your life: most of your obligations are actually choices. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
That’s right. Most of the responsibilities you “have to” take care of aren’t forced on you at all. Most of them are the result of choices you’ve made.
Feel like you “have to” continue on an undesirable career path so you earn a high salary? Maybe not owning that expensive condo or all the stuff that’s cluttering up your apartment would give you more freedom to find a job you actually enjoy.
“Have to” give up traveling because you can’t afford it? Maybe something else in your budget, like eating at pricey restaurants, can go instead.
“Have to” spend your weekend doing chores rather than enjoying the outdoors? Maybe you can squeeze the cleaning into a weekday evening by giving up something else, like all that time you spend on Facebook.
Each of these obligations hinges on a choice you made and, often, one you continue to make. You might have not have made it consciously — you might have automatically fallen into that routine because it’s how everyone else does it — but it is a choice.
If you’re happy with that choice, good for you. But if you’re not, it’s time to realize you can decide to choose differently.
How to pursue what really matters to you
When you see your obligations for what they really are, it becomes a hell of a lot easier to say “no” to anything that doesn’t truly help you get where you want to be.
That could mean saying “no” to poisonous relationships with people who are keeping you from following your gut. It could mean saying “no” to some opportunity everyone else thinks you’re crazy to pass up, so you have time to pursue what really matters to you. It could mean bucking the status quo and doing something different.
Whenever you’re short on time or money or motivation, ask yourself: What’s keeping me from doing what I really want to do? And how can I treat those obligations as what they really are: choices?
“If you say you never could do that, you certainly never will,” Kirk Horstead, a blogger who’s taken four sabbaticals in the last 20 years, told me. “But every one of those obligations is a choice. Getting up in the morning is a choice. Taking your kids to that game, going to work. You face hundreds of choices every day, and you just keep saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ to them. And that’s great, and that’s what gets you through the day and gets you success. But there’s also the choice to sometimes say, ‘I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to work every day of my life.’”
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Living purposefully takes effort. It requires swimming against the tide. It means making unconventional and often unpopular decisions. It requires consistently checking in with yourself to make sure you’re making conscious decisions about where you want to go, rather than letting the tide carry you.
But in the end, it’s worth it. Because you’re creating the life you want, not the one your neighbor wants or the one your family wants for you or the one society says you should want.
Choose your obligations wisely, so they don’t keep you from living in a way that makes you happy.
Alexis Grant is author of a new ebook, You Deserve a Job You Love: 20 Big Ideas for Succeeding in the New World of Work.