Have to vs. Want to


I have a good friend who is in the process of buying a new home.  The sale is almost complete, and he recently took an inventory of all the things that needed to be fixed or changed in the house when he moves in (there is ALWAYS something!).

When looking at his list, it was clear that there were things that needed to get done immediately, and some that could wait.  My friend is a bit of an over-achiever, so he labeled most of the 28 items as immediate concerns.  Both fixing the cracks in the stucco and replacing a few window screens ranked as top priorities.

His list got me thinking of all the rest of the the things we label “have to” versus “want to”, and it dawned on me that there are very few things we HAVE to do in life.

Think about it.  I HAVE to pay my electric bill. No you don’t.  Of course your lights may get shut off, but you don’t HAVE to pay it.  You WANT to pay it so your lights don’t get shut off.

I HAVE to get to work on time. No you don’t. You might get in trouble or lose your job if it happens a lot, but you don’t HAVE to do it.  You WANT to be on time so you won’t get in trouble or lose your job.

As I was thinking through all these things, I realized how often we say “I have to”, but what we really mean is that “If I don’t want this negative consequence, I had better do it.”  It’s the difference between: “I have to or else”, and “I want to because”.

This leads us down an interesting psychological path. When we feel like we have to do something, it’s no fun, it’s difficult, it’s drudgery.  When we do something because we want to, it creates a desire to succeed and a feeling of ownership.

So I know this little journey has been eye-opening for me, but how does it effect our employees?  How many times do they hear, “you have to do this or you have to do that”?  You have to smile, you have to make correct change, you have to check heights, you have to punch in, you have to punch out, you have to wear a uniform, you have to be nice to people…

They may even be thinking, “oh, no I don’t”.  And they are right!  They don’t HAVE to do any of those things. You may think they have to in order to keep their job – but there’s that negative consequence again. In reality, you WANT them to do those things so your employees and guests will be happy and your company will make money.  But they’re right.  They don’t have to.

So your challenge is to figure out a way to create an environment where they want to smile, make the right change, check heights, etc., because they know it’s the right thing to do.

Most people, given the option, will do the right thing.  Not because they have to, but because they want to.  They key is that they need to know the options, the impacts, the effects, the outcomes… in other words – they need to know WHY!  Knowing why can turn a “have to” into a “want to”.

Who wouldn’t want that?

3 thoughts on “Have to vs. Want to

  1. Good piece. The only thing I would mention is that you didn’t mention that sometimes you have a passion about something that is so strong that you do actually HAVE to do it. True, its not a life or death thing, but it can become so ingrained as a part of you, that you really don’t have a tremendous choice in the matter. I think that’s why so many of us stick around the industry for so long. For us, its not just a job-thing or a career-thing, its an identity-thing.

  2. Hmmm… interesting perspective! I think the “or else” to this kind of have to is, “or I would go crazy”, which is as much a viable outcome as any other, and a reason to do something. Do we ultimately still have the choice not to? Logically, yes. Emotionally, probably not… which is why, like you said, so many of us stick around as long as we do!

  3. Pingback: “Have to” versus “Want to” | The Way of The Chiro

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