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Do You ‘Have To’ Or Do You ‘Get To’?

You can’t possibly lead others if you’re not leading yourself.

Live a "get to" life
Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

I was once Plant Manager for a $65 million manufacturing plant. Authority, autonomy, and accountability for results were all I ever wanted. I figured that in a higher position I’d be able to delegate the annoying tasks, but the budgets didn’t allow for that. So, there were parts of the job that I “had to” do in order to be able to “get to” do the parts that I loved. Eventually, I loved fewer and fewer aspects. I felt stuck. After a few years, I moved on to another position that I thought would be a better fit. It wasn’t, and I found myself fired within 2 years.

Find Your Excellence

I saw a speaker once who talked about his own life and videography business. In his business, he would say yes to any request that involved a video camera. Clients knew there would be long production times, and that they would receive content months after the shoot. The videographer hated the long production process and not seeing the client’s reactions to the results. He found that there was only one thing that he loved about videography: same-day footage. Seeing the audience’s reaction after he shot video of a wedding, edited it within hours, and delivered the finished product at the reception lit him up.

As he chose to do this more and more, sometimes for free, people at weddings saw his passion and love in the videos. He started booking more “same-day edit” events. As his bookings increased, he stopped saying yes to anything else, tripled his price for the fast-turnaround footage, and his business took off. He loved the same-day edits so much that people loved them too, and they compensated him for his passion. Passion creates and enables excellence, and people will pay handsomely for it.

Rise Above the Struggle

I often write, speak, and teach about leadership, and from my perspective, the opposite of leadership is survivorship. The first time I discovered this, I was trying to make sense of why some people sacrificed themselves to live, while others rose above the chaos and daily struggle, and seemed to live life on their own terms. From my vantage point, when I was in corporate I was in a leadership position but I was never a leader. A leader is someone who rises above the fray, lives authentically and aligned with their own values, desires, and talents. A survivor shrinks and sacrifices himself out of fear or obligation. A leader demonstrates how to live “soul-out” by saying yes to what he loves and no to what he doesn’t love. Life is not about going someplace you don’t want to go, doing something you don’t want to do, or serving someone you don’t want to serve. Life is not about struggle but learning how to rise above struggle. Survivors remain in the struggle because they are too scared, or they feel obligated to stay small.

No One Can Save You From You

Sometimes it takes being in paralyzed survivorship for so long to decide that playing small is not the way to live the life that you deserve. Yesterday I was talking to a friend who continues to look for ways and justify playing small and remaining stuck. He is frustrated that no one helps him when he hits tough times. I helped him see that he keeps causing his own pain through his choices. No one can save him from himself. He is his own worst enemy. He keeps choosing to do the same things over and over and expecting different results. When he continues to struggle, he blames it on the lack of support in his life, as if others are responsible for his pain, and suffering. He’s not maintaining friends, he’s maintaining dependent relationships.

I lovingly and sharply told him that he’s not getting out of his own way, and I mentioned three ways that he’s causing his struggle. He first defended himself, but I asked him if he knew anyone who rose above struggle. “Yes,” he said, and I asked him what caused them to rise above. He said they began leading instead of surviving. I asked him what that made him. He acknowledged that he’s stuck in survivorship. Meanwhile, he’s convinced himself that he’s a leader. He’s causing his own pain, and creating struggle, not solving or growing beyond it. That makes him a survivor.

Leadership Vs. Survivorship

Survivors live a life of victimhood and “have to.” They have to do things and keep themselves in a shrunken state. Their lives are about sacrifice and pain. They essentially keep themselves stuck by making sure everything is as hard as it can be. Their lives are like a hamster wheel – they wonder why they are stuck, contemplate escape, but then happily continue to run.

Leaders live a life of ownership and “get to.” They get to do things and expand themselves daily either by doing the tough stuff or eliminating the need to do the tough stuff while doing what they love. Either way, they are never victims. They shift either their mindset or circumstances, but they own both. By choosing what they “get to” do, they are leading themselves.

Leading yourself powerfully is the first principle of powerful leadership. You can’t possibly lead others if you’re not leading yourself.

The Time To Align Is Now

After I was fired from my second executive position in 20 months because of my survivorship, I knew I needed to make a big shift in my life. I knew I needed to start my own business if I wanted to continue to maintain my current lifestyle for my family and myself. Corporate America would no longer have me. This time I vowed that I’d never do anything I hated. If there was something I didn’t love, I’d figure out a way to shift from “I have to” to “I get to.” I began building a coaching business. Coaching people and teams in corporate roles are the only things I ever truly loved in my corporate roles. I was determined that I’d get in my zone of genius and passion and stay there. In my first full year, I exceeded any annual corporate income I’d ever received! I didn’t sacrifice. I chose things that I loved and wanted to do. I chose alignment.

The story of my life has been one of accumulating lots of struggle and pain by living the way I was taught to live – in sacrifice. Fortunately for me, I lived in survivorship for so long that my life crumbled and there was no other choice but to rebuild. Then I chose to lead. Now my family gets to experience what true leadership and living a life that I “get to” live looks like. Hopefully, they choose that for themselves, too. Leadership is always more fun than survivorship. Scraping by is optional and a choice. The sooner you recognize that the sooner you’ll make the shift. I hope you do. It sure is more fun on this side of the tracks.

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