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“I have to go to my sister’s house this weekend,” Gayle said. “I’m happy about my niece’s graduation, but the rest of my family? Oh no!” she said, rolling her eyes. Does the “have to” sound familiar?

In the July series, Practicing the Student Creed, we’ve looked at key principles of Tae Kwon Do like integrity, courtesy and perseverance. The student creed also emphasizes indomitable spirit. One version requires students “to strive for justice, freedom and a meaningful life for ourselves and others.” Envisioning yourself creating meaningful life is pretty compelling, but can you generate world change if your daily environment makes you miserable? This is what Gayle discovered.

Every happy hour with Gayle was a recap of her sister wars. Family events were invariably filled with squabbling and sometimes ended in tears.

Gayle launched in as soon as drinks were served. “We planned a big party for my niece, but my sister wouldn’t accept my help. Eileen insisted on making all the food herself and setting up the backyard. I kept asking what I could do, but she ignored me. I gave up, but at the end of the night she had plenty of time for me. To clean up! Can you believe that? She knows I love my niece – how could I say no? She really just wanted a maid.”

Gayle wasn’t finished. “After Saturday’s fiasco, I went to the mall and got some new clothes at Macy’s. I was hoping to pay off that credit card soon, but I just put another thousand dollars on it. Oh, well – my sisters are never going to do nice things for me. I might as well treat myself.”

Gayle was in a downward spiral. She felt obliged to spend most of her free time with family, even though she felt awful afterwards. To ease her stress, she splurged with money she didn’t have. It seemed hopeless.

Imagine everyone’s surprise when Gayle began to change. She still had plenty of stories for happy hour, but they were about her new family…at the Children’s Hospital. A one day service project had slowly turned into regular weekend shifts with co-workers who couldn’t wait to see her. She left her still-bickering sisters in her rear view mirror. And those shopping sprees at the mall? Who had the time?

She beamed as she talked about volunteering. “Parents are stretched too thin caring for their children. When we give them a break and play with the kids or read to them… Well, it’s hard to put into words. Those smiles are worth a million dollars.”

It’s time to follow Gayle’s lead and let the “have to” and “must do” appointments start falling away. Switch up your calendar with “I’m ready to” and “I can’t wait to” activities. Use your indomitable spirit and the qualities you’ve honed practicing the student creed – integrity, courtesy, and perseverance – to nurture the joyous, meaningful life you desire.