The incessant “shoulds”…the things we think we “should” be doing with our lives. I was looking back through my journal I kept while living in Ecuador, and came across the following entry:

I am 27, what “should” I be doing? I should be married, I should be in a serious relationship.  I should own a home, I should be in a steady career, I should be saving for my future, I should be living near my family, I should have a job, I should not be volunteering, I should not be traveling the world, I should not be living in Ecuador, I should be doing what everyone else my age is doing.  Thinking about these “shoulds” makes me clench my fists, tighten my chest, and recoil in apathy. Who dictates what I “should” be doing with my life?  Why do I think I “should” be doing all of these things? When what I really want to do…is learn Spanish.  To become a yoga teacher. To teach yoga in Spanish. To lead travel and volunteer service trips. To travel to Bolivia and Peru.  To learn a form of dance. To write a book. To learn to surf.  To be a leader. To give back. To coach a Special Olympics softball team.  To counsel in nutrition.  To help children in Africa.

Now I’m 30 and I’m still “should-ing” myself! I look back and realize I’m still not doing many of the things I thought I should be doing 3 years ago. But, I’ve learned to accept that about myself. That I want me to be me wherever I am. Not that person I “should” be. I want the courage to be strong, to be me, in all moments of my life.  Because if I’m confident in my own choices and following the path that I want to follow, than it doesn’t matter what I “should” be doing. So, when you find that you just can’t seem to get rid of those darn “shoulds”, here’s what you do:

Try to take “should” out of your vocabulary.  Next time you hear yourself say, “I should be doing XYZ”, STOP! Should-ing yourself does not motivate you. Instead, it just creates anxiety and frustration about some false reality and expectation that you believe you ought to be living. We’ve grown up with preconceived notions about what we are supposed to be doing by a certain age, but this model is completely outdated. People get married at all ages, have kids later than previous generations, continue to rent instead of buy houses, choose to pursue passions instead of climbing the corporate ladder, and break the mold of what society expects of us all the time! There are no “shoulds” anymore! Every time you hear yourself say the s-word, stop! Throw it out of your vocabulary.

Ask yourself what you really want.  When you catch yourself saying “I should be/have/do…” ask yourself if it rings true for you. Start to question the beliefs and expectations that have been ingrained in us. Do you really WANT to buy a house? Do you WANT to pursue the career path you’re on? Is marriage something you really believe in? This questioning process also relates to the smaller decisions and daily occurrences.  Do you WANT to go to the family holiday party this year? Does a salad for dinner yet again really appeal to you? Do you WANT to attend the office happy hour after work? Keep asking yourself if you really are interested in doing the thing you are “supposed to” be doing.

Give yourself permission to pursue what YOU want. Perhaps you want Taco Bell for dinner instead of your usual salad.  Or you want to spend Thanksgiving with a few close friends instead of family. Or you really want to pursue being a dance teacher when you’re currently stuck in an office 9-5.  Giving yourself permission, especially on the smaller, less “trivial” decisions, to have what you really want will go a long way in relinquishing the habitual addiction to doing what we “should”.  If you begin to truly allow yourself to have, do, and be what your heart really desires, it will become easier to do it on the larger scale. Practicing on a daily basis with the choices you face builds courage to let go of the “shoulds” on a larger scale-family, career, life path, etc

So, where are you “should-ing” yourself? In what areas of your life are you following expectations and “supposed to’s” that don’t ring true for you? I’m curious to know! Leave a comment and tell me!

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