Breaking Free from the Should Life

In my post “A Letter to Arianna” I talked about a concept I have started referring to as “The Should Life.” It’s so dangerous and so pervasive, that more needed to be said, so here it is for you.

A few years back, I started noticing that I was becoming paralyzed by indecision on both a major and a minor scale.  We’re talking what to order off the menu to should I leave my job kind of scale. No discrimination, just an inability to make a decision.

Slowly, I started listening to the inner dialogue that was causing this and I realized the common theme, I was being conflicted by thoughts of what I should decide based on how it would be perceived to the outside world versus what I actually wanted. I should get a salad because X or I should stay in this job that makes me feel miserable because I’m making X amount of money and that’s great for right out of college…

So here I was, trying to live life, based on standards that were set in my head who knows when by who knows who and I was beginning to become stuck, unhappy and depressed.

Living the should life means living in the box, or within a set of parameters, that you didn’t create, but can’t seem to break away from.  These lines are drawn by other people, society, your childhood, your experiences, the media, etc.  Often times you don’t even know they exist, but you find yourself following the “rules” set before you or by the little voice in your head.  That voice usually sounds something like this:

I should drive this car.

I should have this job.

I should be married by age x.

I should be making x amount of money.

I should weigh this much.

I should look this way.

Should…

Should…

SHOULD…

And when I follow the SHOULD I will be happy/thin/liked/successful/the list goes on and on endlessly.

The more should’s on the list (or shouldn’t’s for that matter), the smaller and smaller that ideal box becomes, and the harder and harder it is to feel content and happy with where you are in life.

That uncomfortable feeling starts to grow the more you become aware of something being “off” in your life.  Usually you are not living up to your true purpose or your striving for happiness, validation, success, etc by looking outward toward those parameters that don’t fit you.

I did an experiment in June of 2014 (crazy to see the timing that this blog is almost exactly two years later) where I wrote down all the SHOULD’s I could think of that were influencing my life.

I came up with a whopping 49, and I’m sure there were some I was missing at the time.

That’s 49 different ways I was measuring how my life needed to look/be/feel in order to be happy/successful/etc. And the worst part was, there were plenty that conflicted with each other. In other words, it was impossible for me to measure up to this life I thought I had to live in order to be happy/ accepted/ pretty/ loved/ successful/ fill in your own word here.

I have been carrying around this list for so many years. I’ve been trying to fit into this life and in doing so, I haven’t made any real steps in a direction that feels authentic. I’ve been doing it for so long, it wasn’t until recently that I even realized my life was being driven by these hidden messages.

The realization might come with a great deal of discomfort and even anxiety. You might ask yourself “if I don’t follow these rules, how will I know which direction is right for me?” And here is the scary part, you won’t!  When you have been living the SHOULD life, you tend to lose your intuitive connection to Self, or the real you.  And suddenly something is wrong and you’re trying to find your own way in the dark.

So how do we break away? How do we set aside the guidelines and redefine ourselves?  It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, it’s suddenly unknown because you have to create your own definition instead of letting society/your parents/your childhood, write the rules. However, I can tell you that it’s Exhilarating!

I myself am only a few short months into rewriting my authentic story and taking steps in the direction of my choosing, no longer floating down the stream (which I’m pretty sure is headed toward a waterfall!).  I can’t remember the last time I felt so enthusiastic and excited and driven and confident in the path I’m headed down.

What does your Should Life look like? Do the experiment right now.  Take some time to think about all the ways your are measuring and judging your own life. What does it look like?  Are there an absurd amount of unobtainable standards and guidelines?  Tell me some of yours in the comments and then think:

What would my life feel like and look like if I wrote my own rules?

The choice is yours. Continue down the “Should” path or strike out on your own and find yourself.  Best Wishes on your journey!

2 thoughts on “Breaking Free from the Should Life

  1. I have been living a perfect should life, too. Still am in a way. But the discomfort and price of the loss of authenticity has become too big to bear. I’m now right in the middle of that ugly, scary process of breaking free without knowing what’s going to become of it. I so do hope I can write a similar ending as yours in two years time…

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