I’ve been contemplating a quote from Feverborn by Karen Marie Moning lately that states, Want and responsibility are rarely boon companions.” True statement. It is rare that what we need to do coincides with what we want to do. The whole cultural meme of “TGIF” and working for the weekend says it all. We fantasize about winning the lottery so we can kick our jobs to the curb and tell our bosses to stick it where the sun don’t shine. And then there are domestic jobs—my personal seventh circle of hell—the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry and the never-ending scheduling and chauffeur duties (I loved that David Beckham, when asked what he’d been doing since retiring, admitted he’d become an Uber driver for his kids—I can relate). On top of all of that, we all tend to fill our lives with “have to’s” instead of “want to’s”. And how sad is that?

Plenty sad, I’ll tell you. And why? Is MacKayla Lane right that want and responsibility are not often found in the same zip code? I think for most people, she is totally correct. We are all taught to do what we need to do before we do what we want to—obligation before desire.  And meeting our responsibilities often comes at the expense of our wants. Which sucks. Because, at least in our fantasy lives, we all want to relax and recreate, rather than work and be productive. We work and save (well some of us save) for retirement, that blessed state where we can do what we want, when we want and how we want it. Burger King has nothing on retirement. Or does it?

We complain about all of the “have to’s” in our lives. One of my favorite movie lines is Steve Martin in Parenthood when his wife asks him if he really has to go to some meeting or other, and he looks at her and snarls, “My whole life is have to.”  Powerful and depressing. And universal. My kids are already feeling the soul-sucking effects of “have to” and “not optional.”  Homework?  Not optional. Summer job or volunteer position?  Not optional. Hanging out with friends, shooting hoops, taking a boat ride. Not an option. My sons are 16 and the party is definitely over.

The question is, though, is this as bad as we tell ourselves it is?  On the one hand, unlimited freedom sounds good in theory and also in practice at six o’clock on Monday mornings when we’d rather sleep. On the other hand, responsibilities are often clearly spelled out, making it easy to follow the path. Desires are much more difficult to pin down, making them more challenging to fulfill.  Meeting our obligations gives us a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. Pursuing our dreams, assuming we know what they are, is a lot harder. And the success rate is much lower.

Of course, many of us believe that we would make excellent use of more time— time that is not promised to our day jobs, if only we had the paycheck without the daily grind. We know that our wants are often the opportunity costs of our responsibilities. And while we can contemplate blowing off our responsibilities in order to pursue our wants, how many of us actually do it?  Or would really want to? We fantasize about it, but as most women will readily admit, what we fantasize about and what we want to occur in real life are often two wildly different things. 

Responsibility involves a commitment to others, while pursuing our wants makes us true to ourselves. A truly tough choice. Do we want to be the person who abandons our families to hang out in greener pastures—or at least in grass that looks greener? In the end, it comes down to the kind of person we choose to be. The one who meets our commitments or the one who indulges our desires? We know who Jerricho Barrons is. Of more concern, and perhaps less clarity is who we are.

And while want and responsibility are rarely boon companions, that doesn’t mean it never happens. That may be the definition of heaven on earth. Responsibilities tend to limit our choices, whereas wants tend to expand our horizons. When we can have the box in which we exist also be the limits of our horizons, life is wonderful. 

We all make choices. There is no such thing, in reality, as have to, except dying; we all have to do that. But even taxes, contrary to conventional wisdom, are optional, if we are willing to face the consequences of our actions. And that is true for every single “responsibility” versus “desire” out there. Much of our view of reality depends on our perceptions. If we perceive an unpleasant task as a “have to,” as Mac does in Feverborn, then it is. But it’s not, not really. She didn’t “have to” go into that house where her sister’s memory haunted the hallways. Mac could have turned right around. It was her choice to perceive her options as limited. Just like Steve Martin in Parenthood. Just like us.

Want and responsibility can be boon companions if we choose to open the aperture of our vision. I know it sounds cliché, but our reality is what we make it. Have to versus want to, it’s all in our attitude. Just ask Mac. Or maybe we’d be better off asking Barrons. 

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