From Have to Get

No one likes to be told what to do.  Being told we have to do something is almost as bad, or sometimes worse.  There are not many givens in this world, but if you want to see a kid shut down, tell them they have to do something.  However, you want to see a genius, I give you Tom Sawyer and his whitewashing of the fence.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth – stepped back to note the effect – added a touch here and there – criticized the effect again – Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

It is one of the great moments in American literature, and it is one of the best examples of how paradigm makes all the difference.  Tom had to whitewash the fence – he was miserable.  However when he “enabled” others to convince themselves that they might get to do it – they were ecstatic.  Tom helped them to shift their paradigm concerning the task.  No longer did Tom have to whitewash.  Now they would get to whitewash.

Changing perspective makes all the difference.  It seems so meaningless really – it is just changing one word.  “I have to change careers”, “We have to move”, “I have to find a job”, “The business is changing – we have to find new opportunities” are all laced with negatives, with fear, and with pressure.  “I get to change careers”, “We get to move”, “I get to find a new job”, “The business is changing – we get to find new opportunities” are all phrases dripping with optimism, with a sense of adventure, of new beginnings.

Everyone loves the idea of “getting to” vice “having to”.  It is a powerful thing; a game changer to go cliché.  Another interesting read is a recent column by Kristin Armstrong in Runners World.  It is the same idea, only applied to running and fitness.   Call it the power of positive thinking, a mantra, karma or whatever you wish, but there is no question that moving from “have to get” helps.  Besides, Tom Sawyer is a genius.

2 Comments

Filed under Coaching, Interviewing, leadership, Sports

2 responses to “From Have to Get

  1. Ed

    So true Steve! The language that we use really does have a profound and important effect on our psychological state. Attitude is everything in my book. And the language that we use is the primary building block of our attitudes. Thanks again for another thought provoking post!
    Ed

  2. mike c

    Steve, nice nuance and great lesson… We are so inundated with negatives on why and how we can’t or shouldn’t do things. The genius of tom Sawyer, and any leader for that matter is to get folks to see the better purpose and to provide satisfaction and anticipation.

    Loved the read.

    Mike

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