How Long Do You Have to “Do What You Gotta Do?”

Shannel Wheeler
4 min readJun 19, 2017

I recently had a discussion with a loved one about the struggles of life and at the end of our conversation we reluctantly concluded, “Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.” Immediately following that statement we both had a seemingly simultaneous epiphany — how long were we going to keep saying that?

You’ve probably heard the saying “You gotta do what you gotta do until you can do what you want to do.” This statement basically says that until you can do what you really want to do in life, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to survive. This sentiment definitely rings true for many of us. Many of us have worked jobs that we didn’t like simply so we could pay the bills, while we were applying to the positions we really wanted. Some of us have slept on a friend’s couch or in our parent’s basement until we could afford a place of our own. Others have sacrificed their own dreams to take care of their children or a loved one. The concept of sacrifice, discipline and hard work for the sake of aiming toward something greater is a noble (and many times, necessary) feat.

However, when “gotta do” and “want to do” don’t eventually match up, then you have a challenge.

When facing this challenge, the question becomes: how long does one need to stay in gotta do mode? When do we finally get to do what we really want to do? Let’s summarize the differences between “gotta do” and “want to do”:

Gotta Do

- Obligations/tasks that we don’t like or enjoy

- Sacrifices made for the betterment of another aspect of our life

- Activities we have conditioned our mind to feel are mandatory, even if they are unfulfilling

- Actions that are mandated from habit, routine or commanded by someone else

- Actions and life choices that classify as “getting by”, “making it” or “meeting the status quo”

Want to Do

- Goals and dreams that seem far from reach

- Aspirations that we put off due to fear, risk or uncertainty

- Actions that we put off due to comfort of our current circumstance

- Actions that we know would drastically change the landscape of our lives and how we’ve been operating— for the better—but seem too challenging

- Goals, dreams and aspirations that are seemingly unrealistic, but were never tried or tested to prove them unrealistic

To be clear, all gotta do scenarios aren’t bad. Some are quite necessary depending on one’s life circumstances. However, some are self-inflicted and unnecessary to endure for the prolonged periods of time that we’ve allowed them to go on.

How do you bridge the gap between getting by (gotta do) and actually reaching that particular goal (want to do)? What hinders us from realizing our potential and making those aspirations a reality? Are there some circumstances that make want to do impossible? Or is the want to do only seemingly impossible because we set our mind to think that way?

All of these questions lead to some possible conclusions:

You have to be honest about what you really want

Like, what you really, for real, for real want. Have you taken the time to be brutally honest with yourself and evaluate where you are in life and why you do the things that you do? Is your life path a result of your own desires or are you on a path that someone else dictated for you? It’s essential to get quiet in your own space, dig deep and evaluate your purpose, passions, interests, dislikes and areas that need improvement. Live some more and then repeat.

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.
— Earl Nightingale

Mindset determines progress

All goals begin with a thought. Thought turns into idea, idea turns into action, action turns into progress, progress turns into achievement. If you can’t even form your mind to believe that you can get (and deserve) what you want, it will be very difficult to get there. It’s also important to realize when your thoughts are becoming detrimental to forward progress and find a way to pivot to healthier and more productive thoughts. Once your mind is right, your direction and determination is clear.

Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek.
— Mario Andretti

Sometimes you just have to do it

At the end of the day, it’s just about doing. You can read as many “how-to” books as you want, listen to hundreds of motivational podcasts, attend seminars and conferences and write up tons of plans for your dreams. But at some point you just have to go for it. Contrary to popular belief, motivation isn’t always needed for action. Sometimes setting things in motion will activate the inspiration you need to keep going. You may not know all of the steps of how to reach your goal, but most likely, you know a few that you can start with.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. –Lao Tzu

Is it possible to successfully manage gotta do and want to do? Of course— we often operate within both realms. There’s no shame in doing what needs to be done for the betterment of your own life, someone else’s or for a specific cause. Again, the problem lies in the futile suffering we experience caused by allowing “gotta do” situations that have no eminent impact on our present or future lives. There are situations that we sometimes put ourselves through that are disguised as necessary, but really aren’t. If only we would aim for the true goal, want to do could truly manifest as our reality.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Shannel Wheeler

Creative professional, designer, author, instructor. Creating with purpose. Teaching and inspiring by design. Start learning design: