“Should” Is a Four-letter Word


A very common word that most people I know use many times a day. “I SHOULD go visit my friend.” “I SHOULD really declutter the den instead of watching a movie.” “I SHOULD go to the school where my parents want me to go.” “I SHOULD do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

How many of the things we think we “should” do are things we actually “want” to do or “need” to do? “Should” implies an obligation or duty of some kind, in which you are swayed not by your own personal objectives, priorities or principles, but by what you THINK others expect of you. Living by other people’s priorities or meeting other people’s expectations — is this something we want to continue doing? Even if we sometimes don’t really know at all what those expectations are, or if they even exist?

Let’s look at this — dissect it a little through an example:

“I SHOULD keep my house cleaner than I do.” Why? Is it because you would rather live in a cleaner house? If this is the case, then you would say, “I WANT to keep my house cleaner than I do”, and do it, because it’s YOUR priority and need.

If this isn’t the case, then whose expectations do you think you have to meet? By using “should”, we’re saying that keeping a cleaner house isn’t what we’d choose to do, but what we feel compelled to do for some external reason. Maybe it’s because we think our friends will judge us if a dust bunny accompanies us to answer the door when they visit. It could be that we imagine that if a family member with a chronic house cleaning habit comes to visit, he/she may conduct a mental white glove test that we think we’d fail in his/her eyes.

All speculation.

In either of these cases, the idea that we “should” keep a cleaner house isn’t something that we would do if we didn’t feel like we had to meet expectations that aren’t ours.

We have enough to worry about in these extremely busy, technologically challenging and stressful times. We have our own priority lists to complete and expectations to meet. Isn’t that enough? Why take on someone else’s expectations — if they even ARE real expectations.

What I mean by this is if the family cleaning fanatic comes over for a visit, we can’t control how he/she will react to a less than spotless home. Do we know if the reaction will be one of disappointment? Judgment? No, we don’t. We’ve just written a script in our heads that may have no basis in reality. And even if it does, do your expectations have to match, meet or exceed those of friends, family or even acquaintances whose situations, priorities and resources may differ drastically from our own? Do you WANT to spend all of your free time making sure your house is clean? If you do, great — there’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t, why not spend time on something that is more meaningful or will bring you more pleasure in your life.

And really … how someone else reacts to what we say or do is beyond our control. Don’t we all know someone who says or does things without worrying about how we’ll react? And aren’t we a wee bit envious that they’re okay with that? (More on this next time.)

Life is too short. We hear this all the time. We hardly have enough time to learn, love, laugh and live as it is. How many of us actually learn, laugh, love and live the way we want to?

Are you doing what you think you SHOULD do, or are you doing what you know you WANT or NEED to do to make the most of your life?

Shed those unwanted expectations that might be burying you under a pile of “shoulds” that don’t even belong to you. Give those away, along with the guilt and the worry and the constant compromise that go with them. Keep the ones that are meaningful and give yourself the best gift you can — the permission to set goals, objectives and expectations that will bring YOU satisfaction, peace of mind and happiness.

Stop “shoulding” all over yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Cartoon by Nataliedee

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