Stop Saying These 3 Words for a More Successful Career

Wes O'Donnell
4 min readJun 4, 2019

Here’s an interesting paradox: Americans are an extremely optimistic bunch, especially when compared to our friends in Europe or Asia. But humans, by nature, have a very negative bias. In the days of the hunter-gatherer, this negative bias helped us notice things that were threatening to our survival.

But even if you consider yourself one of the more positive humans, there are still phrases that may be sabotaging your success, as well as other peoples’ perception of you as a leader.

Fortunately, there are some tiny language tweaks that can make a huge impact on your career.

Opportunity is Everywhere

I recently gave a speech to the cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy on the topic of leadership success, and I told them that there are three words that are wreaking havoc on your subconscious: I have to…

As in, I have to run to the store. I have to do homework. I have to be there at 9 AM.

My advice to these young cadets, who would soon be leading airmen in the task of defending our nation’s interests, was to swap out I have to with I get to.

The bottom line is that “I have to” feels like a burden. While “I get to” feels like an opportunity. Our brains react very positively [or negatively] based on the way we use language.

“Wait, Wes,” one of the cadets said, “you want us to say I get to do homework?”


Here’s the thing: Opportunity isn’t something that comes around once in your lifetime, and you’re lucky if you grab it. You can become the type of person that creates opportunity.

If you looked at homework as an opportunity to better master a subject, excel beyond your peers and become a more well-rounded person, the burden of homework takes on a different meaning entirely.

A funny thing happens when you start to look at burdens as opportunities: the world starts to look very different to you because you have forcefully changed your perception from a life of tasks to be completed, to one of “opportunities” to be nurtured. That is a pretty big mental change for the cost of only a small language tweak.

Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security Wonk for War is Boring, GEN, OneZero, Soldier of Fortune | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Founder of Warrior Lodge