The Death of Should

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

If there’s one thing I know for sure “should” shouldn’t exist. It is a word and a concept that causes so much frustration, grief, anxiety, envy, depression, resentment and rage that I’d like to see it banished from the planet. Can you think of a time when you’ve used it in a sentence and it was a good thing? Subconsciously and consciously we tend to operate our day to day lives based on an awful lot of pesky shoulds.

For example:

  • I shouldn’t have to do this.
  • This should work.
  • You should listen to me.
  • They should know better.
  • He should appreciate me more.
  • She should call me.
  • My spouse should have remembered my birthday.
  • There should be less traffic.
  • My friend should understand me.
  • My boss should acknowledge my hard work on this project.
  • My kids should do what they’re supposed to do without my having to tell them.
  • My parents should have known…
  • Everyone should do it like this…
  • No one should ever…

Do you hear yourself in any of these, or maybe all of these, “shoulds?” If you had to pick a theme for these statements, what would it be? As I look back over these horrible sentences, I feel a sense of helplessness. They all speak to me of a desire to gain control over people and situations in order for things to be right, fair or good. The trouble with this concept is that should doesn’t actually produce any results (or any good ones, at least). Should robs you of your personal agency. What is that? It’s your ability to engage in purposeful, goal directed activity in the world. Bottom line, if you are waiting for what should be and resenting what isn’t…well, they might be eating snow cones down in Hades before anything ever happens.

As a very good friend and mentor of mine says when people get into their shoulds, “you do you.” The first time she said it to me, I didn’t hear it. It seemed far too simplistic. After all, she should be giving me better advice as my mentor, right? I had to sit with it for a while to understand the true power of her statement. To be an authentic self, come what may, is our one great privilege as individuals. For if I am being myself and acting on my own behalf with no expectations of others or outcomes, I am better able to live a purpose filled, happy and successful life.

A good way to start doing that is by letting go of should. Let it pass away, into oblivion. Bid it farewell, and don’t look back. Give it a moment of silence, if you have to; but, please, let it go. To let should die, you must acknowledge that the only person you can control is yourself. Once you have done this, you may occasionally find yourself dusting off old “shoulds,” either out of habit or maybe even a sense of nostalgia. Let them go. You don’t need them anymore.

This may sound completely outrageous to those who firmly believe in their shoulds. But, what if wanting what should be is really just a thief who robs us from loving what is? Perhaps it takes a radical paradigm shift to go from “shoulding” to “doing you.” Then again, maybe it’s right on the edge of your awareness that should  has no place in your life anymore. If you’d like to work on replacing shoulding with doing, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


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