One of the biggest shifts I’ve had centers around the difference between obligation and opportunity. I’ve realized that I’ve grown up and lived most of my life with an obligation mindset. Recently I have become more conscious of the tendency to think this way. As a result, I have been able to catch these thoughts and choose to have an opportunity mindset instead.
Here’s an example of what I mean…
Obligation says, “Ugh. The cupboards are bare. I’ve got to go to the store and buy some groceries.” Opportunity says, “Wow, I have enough money to go buy some food! What a delight! I think I’ll take someone along and make a grand ol’ time of it.” This is much more than simply putting a positive spin on things.
I was talking with a piano student of mine who said, “I need to practice more.” Whenever I hear the word “need” my radar goes off. I said that he didn’t “need” to practice at all! I told him that he had an opportunity to practice and get better. He didn’t have to take advantage of that opportunity, but to realize that, if he didn’t, that he couldn’t complain about it later on in life.
Obligation carries a sense of being trapped. Opportunity feels more like freedom. When you see things as an obligation, they feel like a burden. When you see them as an opportunity, they become a gift.
A word that is closely associated with obligation is responsibility. Some people might feel like they have an obligation or a responsibility to their country or to a particular cause, be it religious or otherwise. Most people would say that they feel an obligation or a responsibility to their family. Providing food, clothing and shelter is just fulfilling a parent’s duty, after all.
When I was around 16 or 17, my dad used to say to me, “Until you’re 18 you’re my responsibility. After that, you can do whatever the hell you want.” Those were his exact words. How do you think that made me feel? Like a burden or a gift? If you’re not sure, let me help you out. His other concern was that I continue to live at home as long as I could…so he could claim me as a dependent on his taxes. I know that wasn’t the only reason, but you get the point.
I don’t “have to” do anything. You don’t “need to” do anything. We have opportunities. So many times I’ve heard a preacher say, “We’re not being the men and women we need to be for God.” We don’t need to do anything or be anyone for God. We have opportunities. Likewise, I don’t need to do anything for my wife or my family. When I act from a place of opportunity, they can feel like the gift that they truly are.
The world looks like a completely different place when you look at it from a perspective of opportunity and not a sense of obligation.