Want: have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for.

Should: used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness.

What do you want to do? What should you do? When the answers to those questions are not aligned, which trumps which? As we enter the new year, many of us are contemplating the future and assessing the past. So, let’s look at both through the Should-Want Lens. Make a list of all the things you Wanted To do in 2016. How did they work out. What Should you have done but didn’t? Now make a list of the many things you Should Do over the next year. Does it look anything like your Wanted To do list of 2016? Using the definitions provided at the top of this post, would you characterize your list for 2017 as a Want To list or a Should Do list? My hope is that it is the former. Because, the latter is likely nothing more than a list of safe choices intended to guide you down a low-risk path previously traveled by countless others or, it’s your best effort to channel the expectations others have for you in favor of any that you might have for yourself.

Too many of us give ourselves too little credit. We repeatedly accept “good enough” and we look to others to tell us what we Should Do because charting our own course of Want To’s scares the heck out of us. Don’t get me wrong, there are scenarios where we choose to allow the most mundane Should Do to hijack our most exciting Want To, with an emphasis on the conscious act of choosing. With Christmas just over our shoulder, I can’t help but think of George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. He worked hard so he could pursue his Want To’s; a life of adventure far away from familiar surroundings. But just when he was ready to take that leap, life changed. In actuality, I offer that his Want To list repeatedly changed as he decided it best to chart his own course at home in favor of exploring elsewhere. At the same time, he lived a life enabling others to pursue their Want To’s, and in doing so, he lived the most fulfilling and meaningful life of all the Bedford Falls’ residents.

  • George didn’t stay in Bedford Falls because he felt he should – He single-handedly protected the town from becoming Pottersville because he wanted to.
  • Don’t eat healthily and work out because you should – Do it because you want to enjoy the benefits of such a lifestyle and be an example for others.
  • Don’t pursue additional education because others are advising you to or in an effort to accumulate bullet points for a resume – Do it because you want to develop new skills and grow in ways you only imagined.

I was recently speaking about the merits of self-driving cars and how I believed we would soon live in a world where driving our own cars would not only be the exception, but ultimately be frowned upon (e.g., insurance, liability, and safety perspective). Some could see what I was seeing and shared my opinion that it was both an inevitable and positive social evolution, but others dismissed it as silly and an unfortunate circumstance. They love driving their cars. But when we are abiding by the laws, following the directions we hear from our GPS, and blending in with the traffic around us (all very responsible and necessary behaviors when driving a car), are we really driving anything? Driving a vehicle done properly is mindless, yet requires our complete attention. We fool ourselves into thinking we are driving the vehicle, but we are merely responsibly responding at the wheel. We are doing what we Should Do. We are not truly propelling by force in a specified direction (or choose your favorite definition for the word drive). And no, I am not advocating that any of us become irresponsible behind the wheel. I am merely acknowledging that many of us believe we are driving when we are merely riding with the wheel in our hands.

Too many of us are unknowingly influenced by a Should Do list. I Should choose the safe path, I Should Do what others are recommending, I Should put my aspirations for a wonderful life on hold so I can live this one. If we are truly driving this life we get to live, let’s consciously drive it. Let’s acknowledge that the choice is ours and that there can be great joy in truly driving the execution of our Should Do list. George Bailey did exactly that. As I ponder the next year, the Want To’s will continue to carry the day…more boldly than ever.  Don’t just do what you should, do what you want – and do it on purpose!

  • Are you driving or are you merely responding?
  • Are you excited about the day or are you enduring it?
  • Are you living a life of Should Do’s or Want To’s?