I’m currently at war. With a word. It’s “should.”
I’m more than familiar with Shoulds holding me back from being happy in my career. For years I worked hard, moved up the corporate ladder and met the success I was after but was ultimately unfulfilled once I got there. All those things that should have made it all worth it, weren’t. That was annoying.
Shoulds can hold us back from making choices that feel right to us. Freeing ourselves from their trap can result in more fulfillment and happiness in our careers.
How are the Shoulds in your life?
Many of my clients can relate to this. The truth is, it’s ingrained in us to push through, to keep our heads down, to expect sacrifice in order to get what we want. Many of us see that hardcore work ethic as a badge of honor. Myself included.
What if there were another way?
The worst part about Shoulds is how we hold tight to them.
They give us an excuse for all the times we’ve chosen work over friends and family, all the times we only slept 4 hours because we HAD to get that project done, for the times we’ve taken tons of shit in order to get a promotion that then wasn’t what we wanted after all.
For the times we sold out in order to get ahead.
Shoulds become a security blanket that we don’t love but we almost need. And when we see someone else holding onto theirs, it gives us comfort in our attachment to our own. “Ah, you too do nothing but work at the expense of your happiness and sanity? Me too. I respect that (read: please respect me.)” Kindreds.
As my Dad always says, 2 wrongs don’t make a right.
The cold hard facts
Should is a bully, a mean girl. She tells you how to dress, what size to be, how to present yourself, what to do with your time, how to act. She’s a dictator. And she’s a nasty B.
As the mean girl, Should pressures you when your head says “You know what, I don’t want that promotion even though I’ll make more money.”
She counters with “You can’t change your mind now! You must not be serious about your career. Sheryl Sandberg would be disappointed.” She lays it on pretty thick.
Yeah, she’s terrible but she’s not 100% wrong- those things she’s pressured you into chasing can pay off.
The job you’ve worked tirelessly for does look good on paper and may really impress at your college reunion. The 1000 calories she suggests you take in each day do allow you to squeeze into your favorite jeans…never mind you’re moody as hell and haven’t had a carb since the late 90’s.
So it depends: do you want to be miserable living by someone else’s rules, or do you want to be the one driving your own decisions?
In my opinion, Should is not a lifelong mate. Eventually we have to face her head on.
It’s time to make new friends
It’s easy to be pressured by how we should live, what our career path should look like, what our post-baby body should look like (by the way, Stars are not just like us. Just sayin.) but it doesn’t mean it’s right for each of us.
We have to carve out our own path and be confident enough in it not to compare those choices with how we should be living.
This is extremely freeing.
It’s time to let go of your relationship with Should. Don’t worry about her. There will always be another person out there who won’t be able to stand up to her and she can focus all her time on that sad fellow.
You’re not alone
We all fall prey to this little devil. It’s wasted energy to think about how you should have responded to the Shoulds all your life. You can only look forward.
Here’s an exercise I do with my 1 on 1 clients to help them get rid of their Shoulds and to highlight what’s truly important:
Get out pen and paper and list everything you should be doing.
For example: going to the gym daily, making dinner, having kids, going after the promotion, making _ $, buying a house, sending birthday cards, etc.
Write down everything your family, friends, society, the media says you should do. List them all, even the most ridiculous. Anything that pressures you even in the littlest way.
Next make another list of everything that matters most to you. Your true priorities: family, stability, kids, your health, going back to school, having _ in savings. Be as specific as you can.
Narrow those priorities down. You can only focus on so much at any given point. Pick 5-6 where you can focus your energy. What actions need to be taken regularly for you to focus on those things? Those are the only Shoulds allowed.
Everything else can be moved to the Should list to be done if you’re suddenly blessed with free time and still want to do them.
What’s left in that second list is what you’re choosing to focus on. These will dictate your decisions and what you say yes to. The only Shoulds that can stay are those that’ll get you closer to your priorities.
Who cares if you get to the gym everyday if you still feel good? Who cares if you have matching furniture? Who cares if you buy cookies for your kid’s last day of school party instead of making them? Who cares!? If it’s not you, then don’t do it!
Eliminate 2-3 Shoulds from your life today.
Embrace the mindset that you are the only person allowed to make a Should demand. You know how you feel, what you have time for and what really matters. This isn’t about making everyone else happy or presenting your life as something it’s not. It’s about being confident and at ease in what’s important to you and protecting those things with all your might.
Do those things as best you can. Really kill it. That’ll fulfill you more so than half-assing all those Shoulds on your list and resenting your life for having to do so.
What Shoulds are driving your life? Can you eliminate any today? Let us know in the comments below! Together we can ban Should!
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