“Shoulding” On Ourselves

There is a little-known occurrence reaching epidemic proportions and running rampant through our culture these days. This problem may be affecting you or someone you know in some very harmful ways. Perhaps you’re already familiar with it… it’s called “Shoulding,” and it is a dangerous thing. I was first introduced to this concept by my mother who was frequently telling me that it is never productive to “should” on yourself. And even though she reminds me (almost daily) NOT to SHOULD on myself… I still do it.

It starts out harmless enough… with a few benign statements such as: I should clean my house. I should do some laundry. I should pay some bills. I should balance my checkbook. I should wash the windows. I should wash the car. I should wash the kids. These statements in and of themselves aren’t harmful. They can actually serve in a helpful manner by prompting us to take care of those things in our lives which need to be taken care of. However, there is a much darker side to “shoulding”… and this is the side that we ought to be concerned with.Let me demonstrate by sharing some personal “shoulds” I have dropped on myself over the years… I should be happy. I should be married. I should be a mother. I should be a successful graphic artist making more than enough money to meet my monstrous suburban mortgage payment. I should bake brownies and change diapers. I should be shuffling kids off to soccer practice and swimming lessons in between power lunches and networking dinner parties.

And I’m just getting warmed up…

I should be a size 2. I should have 8-minute abs. I should have Madonna’s arms, Angelina’s lips and Jennifer Aniston’s flawless skin. I should have thick, lustrous wash and wear hair (in the trendiest style of course) I should arise in the mornings looking like I have just stepped out from the pages of Vogue. I should start each day by running 6 miles and eating nothing but fiber, lean protein and organically-grown produce. I should wear fabulous clothes and drive an equally fabulous, environment-friendly, hybrid car. I should have a perfect mate who looks like Prince Charming and treats me like a queen. He too should earn an obscene amount of money… and together with our beautiful and well-mannered 2.5 children, we SHOULD be the poster-family for happiness and domestic bliss.

This process of “shoulding” can also work in another way… for there are just as many things that fall into the “Should Not” category. A few of my personal favorites are: I should not be divorced. I should not be single. I should not be childless. I should not struggle to pay my bills with a college degree. I should not have any debt. I should not feel the need to constantly defend or explain myself. I should not (occasionally) wish for a different life.

As you can see, “shoulding” is a lose/lose activity. An exercise in futility. Nothing productive or good can ever come from “shoulding on ourselves.” The moment the word “should” leaves our mouths, we are damaging our current and future happiness. This is what my mother is always trying to get me to see. As a woman of 60 she tells me how much time she wasted “shoulding,” when she could have just chosen to be happy and content with who she was and what she had in THAT moment. She hopes that by telling me this while I’m in my thirties, it might save me a great deal of heartache and disappointment and it might allow me to enjoy what I have right now.

So I guess if there is anything, ANYTHING that I SHOULD do… the singular exception to the “Thou Shalt Not Should” rule… it would be to stop all of this “shoulding on myself” RIGHT NOW and start accepting, embracing and enjoying the reality of what IS and what IS NOT.