Letting these three words control my life without even knowing it was--I realized--holding me back from reaching new heights. Refraining from saying them allowed me to live my life with an attitude of gratitude.
What follows is a narrative of one of the most intuitive realizations I've ever had:
Tireless hours drone on and on as I reassure my poor mother that, "The amount of homework I have today will consume me, I will be busy, and--yes--I have to do it all." Amidst this scene, I am sitting at the dining table and give the plate of food next to me an eerie disrespect of careless disregard. I hear the fun-loving voices of my siblings playing. Little did I know how grateful I should be for such blessings. It's surprising that I was able to hear consciously when I snapped out of it upon the stimulus of my dad's voice: "Don't ever say you have to do anything, Beta (an Urdu word loosely meaning sweetheart)." I muttered back an automatic and almost robotic response of "OK, I won't," with no genuine intent of doing as promised, and continued about my work.
The next morning, chai in hand, I got into my car and went to the library. Ironically, it was here at the library (a symbol of my "perceived-as cyclic" lifestyle) where I caught my friend sighing along the words, "Look at this huge math packet I have to do. I'll never finish on time." This triggered my reflexive response of, "No, don't say you have to," and I explained to her the reasoning behind what I had said. It never occurred to me that the words my father said to me that day would ever, ever, present themselves again in my life and it never occurred to me that my subconscious even heard them in the first place. At this exact moment, a realization came to me like a rush of wind. I now understood why my dad would ever say something so "strange" and seemingly irrelevant at the time.
Refraining from saying "I have to" bought to me a personal freedom one cannot find in any other place besides one's internal consciousness and gut: a freedom that one controls his/her own life and is not bound by external limitations. What better abode for freedom to consume me? What better practical alternative to free myself from physical reigns? What better means of owning something that is mine, and mine only, than an insight into personal freedom?
Without ever saying any spiel, tangent, or explanation, my dad used a mere nine words to tell me that one does not have to do anything in this course of life. I don't have to get up every morning; I am ecstatic to see another day and witness time's natural course of progression. I don't have to finish a school assignment; I'm grateful for the opportunity to become educated. I don't have to eat breakfast; I'm happy to nurture my body with sustenance. Most importantly, I'm eternally grateful for whatever this element in life may be that is coincidentally mine at that very time, place, and day. These words forced me to disregard the past and future, and actively bring myself to where everyone belongs, to where success ensues, to where opportunities flood, and to where time exists: the present. The concept of utilizing hard work to become more productive and, essentially,--get stuff done--becomes a thing of secondhand nature. Therefore, "I have to" is a deterrent of success. The realization that I never in the past have, and don't presently do anything because I have to, but because I made the choice to do so was eye-opening.
More importantly, however, these words brought to me the gift of gratitude. Consistently being mindful of this wisdom has aided me in naturally being grateful for any element or phase in my life, regardless of how redundant or "normal" they may seem. As "gratitude is the key to happiness", I now relentlessly pursue a life of gratitude, control, and independence. My dad's words are my wings along this plight and flight of life. I freed myself from the reigns of "I have to" and embarked on a journey towards "love to," "chose to," and "want to."