A Case of the Shoulds

April 9, 2015

Lately, I’ve found myself with a case of the “shoulds.”

Have you had this disease before? It’s characterized by thinking about any of the following:

  • The schools you should have attended
  • The classes you should have taken
  • The majors you should have chosen
  • The jobs you should have applied for
  • The relationships you should have avoided
  • The friendships you should have held onto
  • The goals you should have achieved by now
  • The life milestones you should have reached by now
  • The feelings you should feel about your life in general

…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I distinctly remember the first time I experienced a case of the “shoulds.” It was fall of my senior year of college at WSU, and I was sitting in one of my favorite English classes I ever took, “Women Write the West.” My professor, an intense woman with short salt and pepper hair, a quirky interest in guns, and a surprising ability to captivate my attention for the entire three hour long class each week (3-6 pm), somehow got us talking about our expectations for our lives and whether or not everything was “panning out” as we anticipated. I wish I could remember the context (I’m sure it was literature-related). Anyway, the point is, I remember suddenly realizing that every expectation I held for my post-college life was nowhere near happening. Job at 22? I was about to complete an English Literature degree and had no job ideas, let alone prospects. Marriage at 22? I didn’t even have a boyfriend. Baby at 23? Again, no husband in the works. You should have come up with a better plan! I admonished my poor 21 year old self. You should have majored in something that led more directly to a job! You should have tried harder to meet quality guys! You should NOT have wasted your time on guys who weren’t marriage material!

…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

A second distinct case of the “shoulds”: I had just gotten RIFed (quick education decode: RIF is an acronym for “Reduction in Force” that essentially means the district was overstaffed and had to lay off the most recently hired teachers) from my position at Kettle Falls High School. My dad, my ever-so-patient, steadfast moving buddy, meandered up HWY 395 in a big ol’ U-Haul truck to help me load up my entire apartment and classroom, which we later unloaded into the basement bedroom of the childhood home I claimed I would “never live in again!” just two years prior. My days went from hours of directed, intense lesson planning and grading to hours spent sitting at the kitchen table in my pajamas, browsing school district websites for openings, filling out dozens of job applications, and generally feeling like a waste of a human being. I say this somewhat jokingly. In reality, here I was, 25 years old with a very expensive Masters degree, unemployed and living in my parents’ basement. They remained optimistic that the situation would be temporary, but I found myself with another case of the shoulds: Shouldn’t my life be more settled by now? I should have gotten certified in more subject areas to make myself more hirable. Maybe I should have just stayed in my apartment and hoped that I would get re-hired in the fall. Maybe I shouldn’t have ever taken that job in the first place! When I saw teachers get RIFed last year, I should have known this would happen to me sooner or later; why was I so unprepared for this?!

…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

This year, they’ve been creeping in again. You should be spending your time grading essays, not enjoying the day with your family. You’re frustrated with your class — you’ve been teaching for five years, so you really should be better at classroom management by now. You should be better at cooking by now. You should be better at managing your money by now. Okay, you see the trend. You should be better at *fill in the blank* by now!

You guessed it: etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The scary thing is — I know I’m not always falling short, but so much of the time, it sure feels like it.

because evidently, in my mind, there is a prescribed to-do list, a certain level of achievement for what I should be doing, and the level of quality in which I should be doing it, for each stage of my life.

The even scarier thing is — I know I’m not alone in this. Do you know how many pins I have seen on Pinterest devoted to this very sickness, to encouraging us to rise above the shoulds and to simply acknowledge and embrace what isHere are just a few I’ve seen recently:

happiness planlife we have planned supposed
should happen

Yet, at the same time, when I searched the word “should” in Pinterest today, I found:

  • 10 Tools Every Crafter Should Own
  • 7 Things You Should Stop Saying in a Relationship
  • 11 Books Anyone Who Loves to Write Should Read
  • 7 Foods You Should Always Eat Together
  • 21 Job Interview Tips Everyone Should Know
  • Why You Should Get Plastics Out of Your Life
  • Two Steps You Should Take When Starting Your Blog
  • 10 Shoes Every Power Woman Should Own
  • Camping Hacks Everyone Should Know
  • Naps: How to Nap and Why You Should
  • 10 Phrases Every Nurse Should Know in Spanish
  • 4 Supplements Every Woman Should Take
  • 27 Home Decor Hacks Every Twenty-Something Should Know
  • When You Should and Should Not Use a Flash
  • 8 Road Trips Everyone Should Take in College
  • Why You Should Never Use Canned Tomatoes

Um…are you exhausted yet?

I sure am.

Is your head swimming yet?

Mine sure is.

For me, these search results not only confirmed my previous statement that I’m not alone in my case of the shoulds, but also led me to a new conclusion:

I think our culture is obsessed with the shoulds: what we should say, what we should own, what we should know, and what we should do.

Why do I think this? Let me try posing another question to you: why else would so many article titles utilize the word should? My theory: because we want to “measure up” so badly that we click on that article. We see that link, and in our minds, we suddenly fear that we don’t know all the checkboxes on the list! We better hurry up and read and find out all the ways in which we’re failing so we can hurry up and fix them. And we click, click, click some more.

And you know what? Overall, I think a lot of us start feeling like there is some predetermined idea out there of who we should be.

And you know what?

  1. That makes me really sad.
  2. It’s just not true.

Because you know what? Go back and re-read that list of Pinterest shoulds that I found in my search.

Every last item on it is pretty superficial.

*Pause. The teacher in me has to acknowledge that perhaps the “knowledge” part isn’t necessarily superficial.*

But here’s the real deal: not a single pin on that list addressed my character, the person I am at my very core.

Because you know what else?

  1. Nobody can tell me how I should be me.
  2. Nobody can tell me how you should be you.

For me, that’s pretty freeing.

In light of all these thoughts, here’s my challenge for myself — instead of worrying about all these shoulds, I want to take some time to think about some new questions:

  • What kinds of words do I want to say to the people I interact with every day?
  • What items do I already own that make my days easier or brighter? What stuff could I do without? How can I save and spend my money in a positive way?
  • What new skills and ideas am I excited to learn more about?
  • How can I spend my time in a way that feels meaningful and fulfilling to me?
  • Who am I right now, and who do I dream of becoming?

I know that got pretty introspective, but as I stated previously, I am holding to my theory that I’m not alone in all this…and if that theory holds true, then sharing all this just makes sense. It was on my heart, so I decided I should wanted to write about it.

What shoulds are holding you up right now? What’s your best remedy for those yucky feelings?

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1 Comment

  • Cindy collings

    I totally agree with this. This world has us spinning with all the things we should be doing. I love reading your stuff!

    April 11, 2015 at 12:50 am Reply
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