Untangling Your Shoulds From Your Wants

When I started to write this blog, I realized I had a lot of ideas of what it should look like. It should be brilliant! It should be engaging and funny! It should leave you with a new idea and invigorate you to make grand changes in your life! Suddenly, I heard the old voice of a mentor in my head say, “stop shoulding all over yourself!” I took a breath and reflected on what I had just been thinking.


How People Learn to “Should” All Over Themselves

The word “should” is a clue. Everyone has a bunch of “shoulds” that they carry around with them all the time. You got a glimpse into some of my “shoulds” when it comes to writing, but here are some examples that others may have:

  • I should be married by 35.
  • I should be a lawyer, not an artist because I need to make money.
  • I should listen to techno jazz rock to be cool.
  • I should go to the gym more.
  • I should be quiet – it will keep me safe.

Everyone’s list of “shoulds” is personal and different.

The reason I call this a clue is because “should” most likely points in a direction outside of yourself. In all likelihood, it’s not your voice, but rather the voice of your mother or father or older sibling. Maybe it’s the voice of a teacher or another person you met when you were little whose opinion you decided was important.

Sometimes “shoulds” stem from a fear of consequences. Maybe you grew up in a household where abuse was present and the only way to stay safe was to be quiet and small. Or maybe every time you cried you were told your emotions were ‘too much’ and were shamed or ignored. Now that fear has turned into a more general sense that in all situations, you “should” be quiet all the time or ignore your emotions.

As adults, few of us stop to reflect on whether or not those opinions hold true for us anymore or if we’ve outgrown the situation. That “should” started out as someone else’s idea of the world or a fear of a consequence, and eventually became adopted as our own truth. Someone said ‘here, hold this idea,’ and we said ‘okay’, shoved it in our Life Backpack, and never took it out again.

The word “should” points directly to our long list of personal undigested ideas. Perhaps you can pause for a moment and think, “hmm, SHOULD I actually be married by 35? Where did that idea come from? Maybe that was actually a bunch of ideas I took from my parents and all those fairy tales I read, and the general media and don’t even get me started on the patriarchy!


“Wants” are Better Than “Shoulds”

“Shoulds” are clues for you to pause and reflect, “where did that idea actually come from? Who said I should do that? And then, actually, what is it that I WANT?” If you start to replace your “shoulds” with your wants, a whole different energy emerges.

  • Do I WANT to be married right now?
  • Do I WANT to be a lawyer?
  • Do I WANT to listen to techno jazz rock?
  • Do I WANT to go to the gym?
  • Do I WANT to stay quiet or hold back my emotions?

Wow, that feels different!

When you ask those questions, check in with your body and see how it feels. Reflect on the origin story of your “shoulds” and see if maybe they need to be pulled out of your backpack and re-written.

Featured photo courtesy of rawpixel.com – CC 2.0

One Response to “Untangling Your Shoulds From Your Wants”

  1. Jenny Veilleux

    As a teacher this makes me think of two things:

    1. How do I make sure I’m not “should-ing” my students?

    2. How do I make sure I don’t “should” myself into overthinking everything I do as a teacher?

    Life is complicated 😬

    Thanks for the thought provoking piece!

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