The words “You should” tend to make me run for the hills. When someone is talking to me and they start their unsolicited advice with “You should…”, I get a visceral urge to do the opposite. To me, the word ‘should’ is laden with judgment. It says that there is only one right way to have this experience and if you choose a different path, you are doing it wrong. Unfortunately I am usually the one saying it to myself. And that is a difficult voice to ignore.
As a parent, I am used to throwing that advice around freely. I am pretty sure that I can change my children’s lives for the better, if they follow my guidance. I can look in from the outside and know just what they should do in order to thrive. For some reason they don’t receive this well! I’m going to guess that it’s because I’m giving them the message that I am more of an expert in their life’s journey than they are and I know what decision they must make in order to feel fulfilled, happy or successful. I’m trying to be conscious of my words and to only share if they ask explicitly. Because I am most likely wrong anyway.
To think that there is one way that things should go, means that some people are doing it right and some people are doing it wrong. And that’s counterproductive to each of our unique personalities, needs and desires, and is frankly dangerous. When someone in a role of power shares with a body of different individuals that there is one right path, tensions typically arise and violence often follows.
We need to stop judging – stop judging one another and stop judging ourselves. There is no right answer to, “Should my child go to school physically or be educated remotely? Should I work more or take more time to relax? Should I attend that gathering? Should I get tested for Covid? Should I do chores or take time for a hobby or passion? Should I homeschool my kid? Should I send my kid to camp? Should I see extended family? Should I go to college or take a break? Should I throw the laptop across the room? ”
Just like the answer to the age-old questions for parents, “Should I work or stay home with my kids? Should we nurse or use a bottle?” The answer is no. Choose what works for you.
And even more damaging to our own psyches are the statements when we reflect on our past with self-judgment to say, “I know I should have…” In the past month I have become aware when my friends and clients state about themselves, “I know I should have looked into that thing today. I should have gone on the dating site. I should have spent more time outside. I should have read that book. I should have attended that workshop. I should have been more productive or done more for my business, I should have relaxed more and taken more time for myself. I should have been more social. I should have responded differently in my interview. I should not have called him. I should have called him.” And then comes the inevitable question to me, “Should I do this or should I do that?”
My new response is, “There is no should.” It doesn’t make sense for me to answer that for you. What is right for YOU? What do you WANT to do? You get to choose. And then you get to change your choice if that doesn’t work.”
It was quite painful to hear someone, filled with self-criticism, share with me recently, “I know I should be the person who does this and that.” And all I could respond with was,”You are perfect the way you are. There are no shoulds. There is no one else like you and no one else who knows what’s right for you. Let’s try to think about what would make YOU happy.”
And now I need to internalize that advice myself. It’s not easy to put aside what we’ve been taught we should do, to make a different choice that will potentially align more with our inner core- with who we really are- and with what will authentically fill us with joy. I was brought up to believe that my inner core wanted all of the things I was told I should do. By trial and error I realized that I was more fulfilled and healthy by following some other pathways at times. I would have missed out on some of the most fulfilling experiences in my life, if I had allowed some of these limiting beliefs to direct me. But it’s still hard for me to feel comfortable swaying from the expected trail – that one that starts with “You should…” or “People should…” to try the one that starts with “I want.”
I am still a work in progress – especially when it comes to not using the word should with myself. When being put in difficult scenarios, it’s helped me to think about what type of person I’d like to think I’d be, in that situation, and act accordingly, even if that wasn’t the most natural choice. And other times I just go with what feels good.
It has been freeing to change the Should to Choose. Instead of berating myself at times with thoughts that I should be writing, relaxing more or working harder, I now remind myself that I choose to spend my time doing something else and that’s perfect for me. I am choosing what will fulfill me right now. I am choosing what will give me balance right now. I am choosing what will give me peace right now.
And that’s what I wish for you. When you are wondering if you should do something, I say no, you shouldn’t. Do it because it’s the choice you want to make today for YOU. And if you feel differently tomorrow, then choose again, with no regrets, but with a little more experience.