Why You Shouldn’t Do Anything You Don’t Want To

My wife Kendra is now within six months of retiring from a job she has done for 34 and a half years.  Work hasn’t ever been a passion for her.  She has epitomized the expression “you take your skills to work and save your life’s passions for home”.  She is much more driven by creating beauty in her environment than administering construction projects.   As she gets closer to retirement, a familiar refrain of “I don’t want to go to work” has arisen much more frequently in our morning “sink-side chats”.

In contrast to this is her feeling that she has to go to work.  One morning this week she got out of bed obviously under the weather from a cold, and I encouraged her to stay home.  “I can’t,” she said.  “I just have to go … I have way too much on my plate.”  In summary, she feels she has to do something she really doesn’t want to do.

This discussion brought to mind a philosophy a colleague of mine (AB) employs. AB is one of the most thoughtful, thought provoking and spiritual people I know.  He insists that he will not do anything he doesn’t want to do.

At first blush, this approach can seem to be extremely self-limiting.  As we think about it, there are lots of things we don’t want to do.  Some I have heard lately:

I don’t want to do the paperwork.

I don’t want to go to the doctor.

I don’t want to hold someone accountable.

I don’t want to speak in public.

I don’t want to do the dishes.

I don’t want to eat my brussel sprouts.

I don’t want to go to work…

When I delve deeper with AB what I find is that the list that he doesn’t want to do isn’t that long.  But if he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t do them.

What’s AB’s secret?  He listens to his inner board of directors.  He hears the voices chattering at him saying “you don’t want to do this”.  When he hears them, he inquires as to whether that is really true or not.  He works to understand the inherent value (or lack thereof) associated with the thing he doesn’t want to do, and then re-evaluates if he actually wants to do the thing he originally didn’t want to do.

Sometimes AB decides he wants to do the thing as it has good value.  Sometimes he decides that the thing needs to be done, but perhaps there is another way to get it done like outsourcing or delegation, and sometimes he just chooses that he doesn’t want to do the work because it doesn’t have enough inherent value to expend limited resources on.  It allows him to be his best on those things he chooses to take on.

It occurs to me that there may also be an opportunity for re-framing here.  I have not
chatted with my colleague about this, but I sense that part of the magic is hearing ourselves say “I don’t want” and then asking the mirror question of “what do I want?”

We encounter the thing we don’t want to do, we acknowledge that feeling as real, we ask ourselves what we do want and we revisit the thing we don’t want to do to see how it fits in.

Let’s look at a few of the examples I listed above using this approach:

I Don’t Want I Do Want Reframing
I don’t want to do the paperwork! I do want to get paid for the work I’ve done. The customer needs the documentation to be able to pay me, so doing the paperwork is just a step in the process of getting paid, which I really want.
I don’t want to hold someone accountable. I do want to work with a high performance team. High performance is a norm, and if one team member isn’t performing it allows others to live up to that same standard. Holding each team member accountable leads to higher performance.
I don’t want to do the dishes. I do want to walk into a clean kitchen in the morning. The dishes won’t do themselves, and maids don’t come at 10PM at night.  I can leave them for my partner, but I value that relationship too much.  So on balance I value not only the clean kitchen in the morning but a more harmonious family environment!
I don’t want to go to work. I do want my customers to know I care about them. I love the people I work with.  It’s the processes I find dysfunctional. What if I showed up with people in the forefront of my mind every day?  Would I want to go to work then?

So thanks to both my wife and my colleague for raising my awareness in this realm.  I now know that I should not do anything I don’t want to do.  What will work better is to focus on what I do want to make happen, and see the things I don’t want to do merely as steps on the path to achieving what I want.

How does this resonate?  Do you have any experiences that align with this type of approach?


Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

14 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Do Anything You Don’t Want To

  1. Great post Ian – I have often looked at things I don’t want to do as stepping stones to those things I do want to do! I hope time goes fast for Kendra, because the last little while is the hardest to endure! ❤
    Diana xo

  2. I sometimes wonder, that by doing something I don’t want to, if I’m actually taking the opportunity away from someone who does want to.

    Call it delegation or the third way, but sometimes we give up too early and just do the thing we deplore, when really the opportunity was for us to find an alternative and let someone else’s skill and passion materialize.

    Declining where you’re not at your best is not selfish, but rather in fact the better contribution you “didn’t” make.

    Enjoyed the post Ian

  3. Great post Ian — one way of reframing is to say…. I chose to _________________ for the benefit of ______________________________.

    this means — for example, I don’t like emptying the dishwasher — who knows why but I just don’t. I choose to empty the dishwasher for the benefit of having clean dishes to eat from and a place to put the dirty ones to get clean. 🙂 The big benefit is…. choosing to for the benefit of keeps me from procrastinating…. 🙂

  4. Re framing is something I do with my three year olds at school. It really works well for them. Now I’m considering how it’s applicable in my own life. I do a great deal I don’t want to, but I believe it gets me where I’m going. It also teaches me new things about myself. I think I’ll try this not doing what I don’t want to this week and see what it feels like.
    Thanks for a great post!

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