What a difference one word makes

Spurred by my pre-holiday season post, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Iapproach my career, achieve personal growth and pursue building a new network. After a lot of change, I feel like I’m finally settling comfortably into a new phase of work and life. Last year at this time, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace it all. There was too much to learn, too many habits (both bad and good) to either make or break and also a lot of external factors complicating the picture. As a result I think I skipped almost all the work-related holiday events I usually attend.

This year, armed with new awareness I’ve approached the holiday season and the impending New Year with a completely different outlook. With a slight shift in word choice I feel like I show up and present myself a little differently.

Photo by Henri Pham on Unsplash

Last week I explored the difference between “interesting” and “interested.” This week’s post explores the idea of “I have to” and “I get to.”

Old habits die hard

Even the most spontaneous of us are creatures of habit on some level. For evidence of this just pick up any women’s magazine in October and you’ll see articles almost every year about “surviving the holiday season at your parents’ house” featuring tips on presenting ourselves as the adults we are and not as the 12-year-olds our families remember.

We form habits in childhood (including communication habits) and they’re reinforced however positively or negatively in our families and circles of friends. Then we grow up, move away, gather accomplishments and show up differently with our new colleagues and friends, yet when we return to familiar surroundings we slip into old habits. While it’s familiar it might not always be the best for us. Sometimes it takes a jolt from the universe in the form of a supportive friend, job change or geographic move to make us realize what our unique patterns are and why they might not serve us well.

The allure of “have to” …

My recent insight on this topic, made possible by this past year of solo practitioner life, was that I have always been a big “I have to” gal. Rarely “I get to.” You would think my entire life was an endless to-do list or a prison sentence:

I have to go to the gym today.
I have to finish this PowerPoint.
I have to take my daughter to basketball practice so I can’t attend that event.
I have to commute into New York tomorrow.
I have to get all my performance reviews in by Friday.

Womp womp womp. Negative and a little depressing, isn’t it?

While this concept had already been pointed out to me by my own coach Erin Elizabeth Wells and I had read materials from a well-known online entrepreneur Marie Forleo, it took living it for me to fully get it.

Living the life of long commutes and negative water-cooler chitchat can make “I have to” very alluring. We are a culture fascinated by the idea of negativity. We all want to feel like our situations are more difficult, days more full, office environments more negative. Sometimes, it’s not fashionable to show up and be really, really excited and positive about the work we do. When we get stuck there it’s really hard to see things as opportunities.

Negative speech patterns like that are probably what kept me from attending all those holiday parties last year. And they’re probably what kept me from embracing a lot of opportunities in the past, if the truth be known.

Ditching it for “I get to” …

So this year I made a conscious effort to view everything – and I mean everything – as an opportunity. A most extreme example is if I caught myself saying “I have to go into New York for a meeting tomorrow,” I would sometimes go so far as to correct myself to the other person: “Well, I don’t have to I am going to, because it’s a great opportunity to meet a new person.” Saying it out loud somehow strengthened my resolve to squeeze every bit of possibility out of the meeting.

There’s a professional organization holiday party I attend every year without fail. Regardless of what city I’m in, I go to that chapter’s event. Last year, I vaguely remember my week being upended due to an unexpected late-day meeting. And, true to habit I found myself grumbling in the car on the way to the event, after reciting to a friend my long litany of what I had to do” and then that “I had to attend” the party. Instead of “It’s great that I get to attend this party tonight as a break from the busy season.”

The problem with “have to” is that when we “have to” do something, it not only makes us feel burdened and makes it harder to show up enthusiastically, but our focus remains on ourselves and not others. (See last week’s post.)

This holiday season, I purposely took a few hours one day before Thanksgiving and registered for all the events I wanted to attend. And, I blocked off time to commute so I can be sure to be fresh, focused and ready for each.

Sure, things might come up in the meantime that either delay my arrival or shift my plans. But, so far, so good. With my thoughts firmly rooted in “I get to attend this” and “be interested, not just interesting” I’m off to a good start.

With that in mind, it’s still mid-holiday season. There’s time to shift your communication patterns too, if any of this resonates. Does it? Feel free to share your comments below.

Thanks for reading!