Getting Away From Should

Getting Away From Should
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

I was listening to a friend assess the earlier part of the year the other day, and I felt obliged to stop her.

You see, her conversation was peppered with “I should”.

I don’t like the word SHOULD, because it implies a sense of doing something you’re not doing, or that you feel obligated to do.

Some examples:

  • I should clean the gutters.
  • I should take a course in y.
  • I should catch up on the backlog of magazines.
  • I should visit my family.
  • I should clean out my closets.
  • I should exercise more.
  • I should eat better.

The problem with SHOULD is that it expresses an obligation. The obligation may be true, that someone expects something, or the obligation may be imaginary, in the case where we hold ourselves to something. Obligations are great, but they are better if they are a WANT.

Wants express a desire to accomplish, rather than an obligation.

Questions to Ask When You Find Yourself with “Should”

It is better to get to the root of the shoulds as soon as possible, and either convert them to wants, or discard them.

Who Says?

Who says I should clean the gutters? Is it someone that has a stake in it (like a gutter cleaning company)? Is it someone who is trying to pass off work on you because they don’t want to do it? Is it an expectation you are putting on yourself?

Figuring out who is directing the should will provide some clarity.

Is It Meaningful to You?

Is the activity meaningful to you? Is it meaningful to take a course in a new skill? Are you truly interested?

Activities that have no personal meaning are probably going to be difficult to translate into a want.

Is It Right For You?

One of my friends was pressured to go to pharmacy school because his grandfather was a pharmacist. My friend wanted to do computer programming, but took the basic courses for pharmacy. But his heart wasn’t in it, and he ended up leaving university.

I have been pressured in the past few months to take up a programming language that will doom me professionally. I was told I “should” learn this skill so that I can be more employable. However, it’s not right for me, and I know from experience that if you have the skill, people will expect you to use it.

Thinking about whether a particular task is right for who you are and where you are going can be a good indicator of whose expectation this is.

Is There Another Way?

If you should clean out the gutters, does that mean you need to do it yourself? Or would it be better to state that you will get the gutters cleaned. Sometimes a should is merely an indication of a mis-phrasing. You might not be the best person for the job.

If we examine where the shoulds come from, we can either discard them, or change them in such a way that they become desires. And once they are phrased as desires, we are more likely to make them happen.