Actually, you get to.

There’s a difference between “have to” and “get to” and it’s important. What you think and how you speak about a thing greatly affects your attitude. It’s ridiculously easy to skew towards the negative in life and labelling everything a “have to” ensures that. Making everything an obligation means you’ll likely spend a fair amount of time complaining. It’s better to remember you have a choice.

Complaining has been on my mind of late. I’ve become increasingly aware of the tendency both in myself and in others when I’m out and about with friends. Lately, most of my conversations with friends devolve into general bitch-fests.

I get it, I do. My voice is in there bitching too. Life is hard, the day-to-day can be challenging, and at times it seems like the world, nay the universe, is out to get us. All our responsibilities, all the things we have to do overwhelm. Add to that the annoyances other people bring to the table and the situation is ripe for complaining.

And yet, despite our laments, despite our complaints about our overly-full plates, there is very little we actually have to do. We complain about our obligations and the things that need to get done but, in most cases, we have a choice. We choose how we get through our days. We may not like the outcomes of choosing differently but choice still exists. We are forced to do very little.

Work complaints are popular. A great many people hate, if not their jobs then the people they work with. I hear it again and again. “I can’t believe the weekend is over and I have to go to work.”

Do you though? Do you really? Nobody actually forces you to. You make a choice to go, perhaps because you mostly love what you do, perhaps because the outcomes of the other choice, not going to work, are unpleasant. You get yelled at for not showing up. You get a pay cut. You get fired and suddenly there’s no income coming in. You remain unemployed. You end up indigent. Anything is possible. And, while these potential outcomes are unpleasant, not working is a legitimate option on the table.

There are a lot of complaints about bills and expenses as well. Again, there is an element of choice. No one is forcing us. Some people don’t pay their bills. I have friends who are remarkably sange froid about the whole invoice thing. I’ve always sort of admired their reckless disregard for statements marked “past due”. They don’t pay, they get cut off, they pay the fine, and the cycle starts again. This happens regularly. They don’t seem to mind that outcome. Paying bills is not a “have-to” for them. Most of us choose otherwise; we don’t want to live without power or water or Netflix. Ditto expenses. No one is forced to buy a new television. The “have to” we complain about regarding our expenses is particularly amusing to me; so many have lost the ability to distinguish between needs and wants.

We complain about “having” to visit our parents. Deep sigh. Again, choice. Yes, visiting can be annoying. It takes up valuable time, usually on the weekends. We have to listen to the same stories we’ve heard a million times before. We have to show them how to open the apps on their cell phones one more time. Yes, we’re grateful to them for life; yes, we appreciate their gifts and sacrifices; yes, we love them dearly but there’s a sale we wanted to get to at the mall and then our friends have invited us to come over and watch the game. So, we go but we resent the “must” that has been thrust upon us. We ignore the fact that we made a choice and should therefore be happy with it, or, if not happy at least content.

I get annoyed by my own “have-to” list. I complain about it frequently. I have to get up and get dressed. I have to clean the house. I have to read and write and exercise and eat. I have to parent and friend and daughter. I have to pay my bills. I have to rake the leaves. It’s all very tedious. Especially when my “want-to” list includes none of those things. Lately, my “want-to” list consists of sitting in my office easy chair and reading escapist literature. I’m frustrated by the things I’m “forced” to do.

There are two problems with this attitude of resentment. One is reflected in a quote by Marcus Aurelius and relates to having a sense of purpose in life, something really quite important. Things go badly for me when I’m utterly purpose-free; I suspect this is true of most. Anyhow, Marcus said the following:

“Whenever, as the sun rises, you feel unwilling to get up, have this thought ready to hand:

“I rise to do the work of a human being”

Why feel any resentment, when I am rising to do that for which I was born, for which I was brought into the world? Or was I made instead just to lie under these bedclothes, all warm and comfortable? “Well it is pleasurable to do so!” But were you born for pleasure? Look at it this way: were you born for passivity or to be a man of action? Can you not see that even the shrubs, sparrows, ants, spiders and bees all do their bit, their part in making up the smooth functioning of the universe? So why don’t you do your bit too, and perform the role of a human being?” (Meditations 5.1, Patrick Ussher)

We have roles to perform in this life. To my dismay, lounging eternally in my chair is not one of them, however much my depression-inspired ennui tries to convince me otherwise. We are not obligated to perform these roles, no one forces us, but it’s definitely the preferred choice, one that would lead to a better life outcome than staying perpetually in bed.

The other problem has to do with perspective. You don’t have to rise to do the work of a human being. You get to.

I’m lucky. I forget this sometimes when I’m struggling, and sometimes when I’m not. I don’t always think about the day-to-day reality of my life, it’s just my life. That I’m not overwhelmingly grateful on some level all the time is a travesty. Because, I have been amazingly blessed. Most of us in the developed world are. The things I complain about having to do and deal with are gifts. Luxuries. My problems are another’s most grandiose dreams.

For instance, it’s true that I “have to” get up. I have to get up from the bed I own, in the house I live in, wearing the pyjamas I was able to purchase, to make the coffee I have in the cupboard before sitting in front of the newish computer that rest on the desk in my own personal office in the aforementioned house. I don’t have to worry about where I will sleep tonight or if I’ll be able to get enough food. I don’t have to worry about government forces crashing through my door and hauling me away because of opinions I expressed. I don’t have to worry about natural disasters; I’m beset by neither drought nor extreme heat and although I live in an earthquake zone, there hasn’t been a significant one for decades.

I don’t have to worry about an abusive spouse. I don’t have to worry that if things go sideways, there will be no medical help available. I don’t have to worry about getting around without a car. I don’t have to worry that the stores will run out of food or that the police will harm instead of help.

I get to spend my days writing, a pastime that helps heal old hurts and satisfies my need for self-expression and personal growth. I also get to watch television, because I have one, and maybe stream a movie because I can afford to do that too.

And, I get to call my parents and my children and my friends who, while frustrating at times and whose demands I often resent, are not dead. They are with me and I have the opportunity to spend time with them, to be a good daughter, mother, friend. I get to do this. There will come a time when I can’t. What will I think of my irritation over “have to” then?

“Have to” and “get to” are entirely different ways of looking at the same thing and how you choose to label things is important; it significantly impacts how you feel.

It’s amazing when you think about it, the number of truly excellent things we get to do on any given day.

Are you a “have to” or a “get to” kind of person?

4 thoughts on “Actually, you get to.

    1. I have three. One biological and two step-daughters (also my son’s half-siblings). I don’t worry too much about the labels, to be honest. I just consider them my daughter. My children are older, however. The youngest, my son, will turn 20 this year. Mindblowing.

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  1. I get a bit touchy when it comes to work and bills. Both are closely related. I work because I have bills. Do I hate my job or the people I work with? No, but it would be cool to be doing something else. It would be even cooler not having to work. Yes, technically I don’t “have to work”, but I find being homeless less than appealing for me. Bills are important. Yes, I could not pay them, but that would mess up my credit, blocking my potential actions in the future. I could also get evicted, as the place where I live requires that I have everything on and enabled. So yes, I don’t HAVE TO, but how realistic is it? Yes, I have a choice, but that choice seems like no choice for me.

    With all that said, I do like your “get to” sentiment. ““I rise to do the work of a human being”” is a great quote. There are other things in life that I “have to” do, but I really do them because I actually want to.

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