We Should Quit Should-ing Ourselves

Let’s rebel against the word “should”. I’m pushing back against all the “should” usage in my world — both self-imposed and externally forced upon me.

The etymology of the word includes the notion of an obligation and derives from the word “shall”, which is defined as “I owe/he owes, will have to, ought to, must” and “to be under an obligation.” So when we tell someone that they should do something, we are unconsciously passing on an imposed obligation and assumed authority of being in the right.

I myself have been a “Should-er”. I have historically “should-ed” both others, and perhaps most detrimentally, myself. We should aspire to and do the optimal— find a nice boy, get married, buy a house, have a baby. The “Should” path that society places on a pedestal, and especially sells to young girls as the path to worthiness. I should be productive with my time. I should not be overly assertive as a professional woman. I should want children. I should be able to sew, host a dinner party, stay on top of my finances and cook a soufflé while also climbing the corporate ladder and smashing the glass ceiling. I should not feel sad or overwhelmed by this.

No more “shoulds”. No more imposed obligations. Imma just do me for a while now.

My Mum the “should” rebel

I had a lovely conversation with my Mum recently, where I realized for the first time that my mother never obtained a degree. I had never put this piece of information together, or had not retained the information. Growing up, I was certainly under the impression that one should, nay must, get a degree. That this was the goal, and clear path to success in being a human.

She began to study English and French because she was good at it, but didn’t enjoy it at all. In this recent car conversation I simply adored hearing my Mum simply say “that wasn’t for me, and so I did something else.” She then went on to become one of the first computer science focused people at the company she “just got a job at”. Through hands on training she ended up in the same job as her high school class mates who went through some of the first computer science courses in Scotland. The outcome was the same — the journey was just different. She did what felt right to her, and found programming languages and solving puzzles to be an area of great aptitude.

I wish we celebrate this process more, and that I had embraced the knowledge in my soul that happiness and accomplishment is accessible through many paths. Sometimes unexpected paths that you stumble upon and you simply need the courage to explore them. In my teenage years, I honestly didn’t even fathom that anything off of the “normal” path was acceptable. Degree. Boy. Marriage. House. Child. And then what…?

“You should have another baby before your first child is three.”

— Stranger at Barnes & Noble

Keep your shoulds to yourself

Keep your “shoulds” to yourself. Seriously. The word is an unfortunate and subtle weapon, wielded with ignorance and without care or empathy. When you “should” on someone, you are simultaneously saying “What you are doing is wrong, my way is better, here is what is acceptable in my opinion to do, I deem you lesser than me, you are not enough.”

“Should” is not a conversation starter, it does not promote or encourage dialog and collaboration — it slams the door in the receivers face. If you wish to provide feedback, ensure it is solicited and full of offered possibilities and wisdom, not ignorantly imposed judgment and superiority through the word should.

“Should” is not helpful, nor kind. And the most unsetting thing about these realizations for myself is that it’s a weapon born of ignorance. Ignorance that I myself fall into at times.

Lexcion Replacements

There is no should. There is could and there is maybe. Even if you deem yourself an expert who wishes to “should” on people, consider the fact that you are not an expert in their context and perspective. You do not have the right to impose obligation on that person. Consider how using the word “could” opens up realms of possibility through supportive advice and collaborative ideation.

There is no should. There is only possibility and suggestion. There is no right or wrong journey through life, there is only what seems the best choice in the moment. Then hindsight will slap you silly anyway.

There is no should. Be kind to yourself. Remove the word should from your internal lexicon. I don’t think I’m the only one with inner gremlins who “Should” on me. Alas, we are our own worst enemies, and it starts within with changing the way we talk to ourselves.

And if/when you find yourself “shoulding” on others, and especially yourself. Kindly STFU.