There is one word you and I use every day that creates more dissatisfaction, unhappiness, guilt, restraint, fear, self-doubt, frustration and self-sabotage amongst women.
What’s the one word you use when you are feeling guilty? Should.
What’s the one word you use when you put your family ahead of yourself? Should.
What’s the one word you use when you put work ahead of yourself? Should.
What’s the one word you use when you’re invited to lunch, don’t really want to go but feel like you have to? Should.
It’s limited the potential, creativity, happiness, confidence and success of women more than any other word. Because how do you feel when you do something you think you “should” but don’t really want to? Probably disinterested, disengaged, bored, even possibly resentful if I had to guess.
And no-one wants to live their life feeling that way.
Yes, the word can be used for good as much as evil. I thought to myself “I should do my bike session” rather than laze around in my PJs surfing Facebook this morning. But I should have got my arse out of bed to do it. I’m 15 weeks out from a 50km trail race through the Blue Mountains (and for the record I did - eventually but it was a struggle!).
So many women I know - myself included - get to our 30s and 40s and realise we’ve lost a little bit of ourselves along the way. And I wonder if that’s because we’ve spent so many years doing what we (think we) should, we’ve forgotten what we enjoy and who we are.
Yes, we all have responsibilities. And yes, you really should brush your teeth, pay your phone bill and go to work.
(Making the bed on the other hand is optional. I’m pretty sure no-one ever died from an unmade bed!)
But there are times when you’re faced with a choice - a decision between what you want or need to do and what you think you should do.
When your “should” is driven by fear, guilt, worrying about what other people think, FOMO, a sense of obligation, wanting to be liked or not wanting to let anyone else down, then you’re heading towards dangerous waters.
Dangerous because you’re allowing your fears (rather than your dreams or what’s important to you) to drive your decision making. Plus it allows you to hide.
It’s the adult equivalent of a permission note from your mum to get out of school sport as a kid; it allows you to stay inside your comfort zone where life is safe, predictable and recognisable.
It allows you to hide behind your “responsibilities” (real or perceived) and not take steps towards your goals - especially when the steps, or the goal, scares you.
It allows you to avoid the difficult conversations; of saying “no” when you want to say “no” but think you should say “yes” because you’re secretly worried what the other person will think if you say no.
This choice reminds me of the old Robert Frost poem we all studied at school - two roads diverged in a yellow wood…
When you base your decisions (and choose your road) not on your “should” and your fears but instead on what’s important to you, your values and your dreams, it will make “all the difference” (thanks Mr Frost!).
The next time you catch yourself thinking “I should….”, stop, take a moment and ask yourself what is driving that thought.
Is it guilt, fear, FOMO, obligation, a sense of duty, wanting to be liked or not wanting to let anyone down?
Be honest with yourself because once you know the real emotion that’s driving your thoughts, you can make an honest and objective decision about whether it’s the right choice in the circumstances.
For example, if you are secretly worried about what others will think if you say no, perhaps it’s the perfect time to start making decisions based on what’s important to you, rather than what you fear.
Besides, as Oprah said to me (oh, and 12,000 other people in Sydney last year), “no is a complete sentence”.
After finishing this article, I was listening to a podcast interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love). And she said something which tied in perfectly to this post. She asked "what are you wiling to give up in order to get what you want?". Such a great question! I think the fear / FOMO / guilt-driven "shoulds" must be at the top of the list!