There’s a word that I decided to drop from my vocabulary.
It’s the word should. It comes from the word shall, which in Old English means “to be under an obligation” or “to owe.” Should often represents something I’ve obligated myself to do—without even realizing it.
The shoulds are the belief systems I unwittingly adopted.
The shoulds are the expectations of other people about how I’m supposed to live my life.
The shoulds are my own prison, the iron bars that constrain my thinking, and the chains that hold me back.
Some of these should sound familiar:
- You should start meditating.
- You should be more active on social media.
- You should drink 8 glasses of water every day (which is a “health myth that will not die”).
- You should get married and have kids—before it’s too late.
- You should get on Clubhouse, the new audio chat app that all the cool kids are using.
- You should speak only when spoken to.
It’s easy to lose ourselves in this tide of shoulds.
More often than not, when I find myself using the word “should,” what I’m asking myself to do isn’t aligned with who I am. I’m being steered by someone else’s expectations, instead of looking to my internal compass for guidance.
Take a moment and write down the “shoulds” of your life. Examine each bar of your prison cell. For each “should,” ask yourself:
Where did this sense of obligation come from? Who put it there?
Does it belong to me?
Is this what I want? Or is it what I think I should want?
If it really belongs to you—if it’s aligned with who you are and what you believe— change your vocabulary to reflect that shift, so it’s less of an obligation and more of a desire. Instead of saying “I should,” I like to say “I get to” or “I want to” or “I’m privileged to.”
But if it doesn’t belong to you—if it’s constraining your thinking, limiting your potential, or holding you back from the life you want to live—let it go.
Live up to your own expectations, instead of being trapped by someone else’s.
In the end, the door to your prison cell is unlocked.
Stop banging on the bars.
Just open the door and leave.