As in: “You should send a thank you note to your Aunt Mabel for that lovely ceramic Jesus she sent you,” or “I should fire you for single-handedly shutting down our entire computer network”, or my personal favorites, “I’ve had enough fun—I should get married now” and “Oh my God I just turned 40 I should be having babies!”
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not anti-marriage, babies or Jesus figurines; I’m anti-should.
‘Should’ expresses obligation, but obligation to whom? If it’s to myself, then by its very nature it suggests choice, which means, in layman’s terms: “I don’t have to do nuthin’ I don’t wanna do!” Therefore, the obligation is to others, and really, all I can do at this point is quote Billy Joel:
I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!
What is this pervasive belief that we must make choices in our lives based on other people’s preferences?
And the fallout is clear: when we structure our lives based on anything other than being true to ourselves, chaos ensues. It’s like the universe is saying if you refuse to live an authentic life, I’ll just turn you upside down and shake all the inauthenticity out of it.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who have experienced this ‘chaos’ as a result of decisions made because they were full of should:
- A man I know got married because after years of dating felt he should; he now has a mistress.
- Another guy I know agreed to have a baby with his wife because, after all, that’s what you should do when you’re married; the wife is a single mother now.
- Every woman I know who is in her late 30s to early 40s is shoulding all over herself about having a baby. I asked one gal if it was her heart that was telling her she wanted a baby, or society. She thought for a moment and then said, “Well, to be honest, probably society more than me. But I’m 41, I should just do it before it’s too late.” Too late for what, a mid-life crisis?
- I used to be friends with a fellow in his 50s who bought a Porsche, started saying “Cool!” a lot, and tried to turn me into his extramarital affair. All because he created a shouldy life that he never really wanted.
So when you find yourself up should creek without a paddle, I encourage you to think of this quote by Wayne Dyer: “If you are living out of a sense of obligation you are a slave.”