How to deal with the “Shoulds”

A few of my friends are turning 30 this year and it’s been interesting talking to them and others who are approaching this age. One big thing that I have noticed come up with most people as they get older is all the “shoulds” — What we feel like we should have accomplished in life or where we should be by now. For instance…

I should have better health by now.

I should be working in my career of choice by now.

I should be married by now.

I should be having kids by now.

I should be more experienced by now.

I should be making more money by now.

I should have my dream job by now.

I should have my life together by now.

I should know what i want by now.

What are your ‘Shoulds?’

All of these statements echo the same sentiment: “My life doesn’t look the way I thought it should. And I feel disappointed and/or ashamed.”

Have you ever thought about where those beliefs originated from? For example, if you feel like you should be more ahead in your career… why do you think that way?

Why do you believe you “should” have this by now? Who taught you that?

Lately I’ve been questioning a lot of my beliefs about things and getting curious why I think the way I do. Do I want this thing (xyz) because I actually deep-down-to-my-core want it? Or do I want it because so many other people around me seem to have it – and I’m playing the comparison game?

It might sound funny, but when we start to question our beliefs about life and where we got them, we’ll usually find that these shoulds, these so-called ‘truths’ aren’t even our own. They come from society. The people we grow up around. Our culture. Beliefs that got passed through the generations, some stemming all the way back from when we used to live in tribes.

Many of us don’t realise or even want to admit how influenced we are by these learned, passed down beliefs which truly run our lives.

For example, why do most people get married in their mid 20s to early 30s? Is it because we all magically find The One around the same time? Or is there a deeper reason? Perhaps because it is deeply ingrained in us to look for a mate to settle down with around this time? Most of us would not think it strange if a 25-yr old is single and unmarried. But a 45 or 50-yr old who has never been married? That seems odd to most of us. Why? Think about it.

So many of us believe that life events are supposed to line up in a certain way; that there is a time when certain things are supposed to happen. There is a certain age bracket for getting married, for having children, for when we should be settled. There’s an age bracket for when we should feel experienced and successful, for being accomplished in our career, for earning a certain amount of money, etc. We expect the cards to line up and for certain things to happen at set points in our lives.

How to deal with the 'Shoulds'

This is all well and good until some of us find that life doesn’t quite happen that way. For example, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who just turned 30. She told me she felt quite baffled turning this age because nothing in her life was as she had expected it would be. She had always assumed she’d be married, perhaps with kids and a house, or at least pregnant by the time she was 30. Instead she was single and still navigating the dating pool. She always thought she would be working in her career of choice by this age – instead she was working side jobs trying to still get to that place. She thought she’d feel successful and accomplished by age 30; that she’d have it all figured out. Instead she felt confused and left wondering what went wrong.

We bring ourselves a lot of pain and suffering when we tell ourselves we should be at a certain place in life that we’re not at. Think about it – when you tell yourself you should be doing something or you should be somewhere you’re not… does that make you feel GOOD? I know it makes me feel pretty lousy!

If you feel like you’re caught up in the shoulding game, here are some tips that can help you to shift it:

1. Get clear on WHY you feel you should have this or that.

Where does this belief come from? Is it really a truth in life? Become curious and aware.

2. Ask yourself if you truly want this for YOU.

Do you really want this or is that ‘should’ tied up in an attempt to be more accepted, to fit in, to please someone, to prove your worth, to look good, accomplished, etc.

If you’re a traveler like me, maybe you find yourself saying things like, “I should go to this part of the world. It’s somewhere I should really see.” I know this one well.

For example, I’ve never been to Paris. Or London. Two major cities in the world that are often frequented by even the most casual travelers. Many times I find myself thinking, “I should really visit these places instead of the other spots I have on my radar which are much more difficult to get to. Tickets to Paris and London are cheap, the flights are short and I should see what all the fuss is about.”

It’s just that… I don’t feel lit up at the prospect of visiting big cities right now. I live in one of the biggest, most dynamic cities in the world. And because of that, I am not so drawn to seeing more ‘city’ when I travel. Don’t get me wrong, cities are interesting for sure and if you only have a short amount of time in an area, often visiting the major city is the best way to get a feel for the country and culture as a whole.

But cities are typically not the big draw for me. I like small quirky villages and hamlets. I like the open outdoors and beautiful, epic nature scenes — mountains and fjords and glaciers and the sea. No matter where I go, I always seem to seek out the more remote spots off the beaten path. I’m always trying to find space and autonomy.

I came to the conclusion after the events of my last big trip that I’ve been booking my travel in all the wrong ways. I had become more focused on crossing places off my bucket list and had lost touch with my WHY for traveling in the first place.

I’ve since decided: I will only travel to places that fully light me up from now on. Places that strongly resonate with me. At the moment I’m feeling most called to parts of Asia and the South Pacific — especially Southeast Asia, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand. Something is pulling me there. And I don’t know what that part of the world has in store for me but I need to go find out.

So yes, traveling to London over Australia would be much easier but I want to put my time and energy (and money!) into trips that really fuel me and pull on my heartstrings. I’ll be heading to Bali in a couple months and that is just a humongo YES for me. A thousand times YES.

We have to go where we feel pulled

And the way to figure out what we want vs what we think we should want is by going inward. When we get quiet, when we meditate, when we calm the mind chatter. When we drop out of the head space and into the heart space.

The head can talk us into a frenzy sending us in a million different thought directions but the heart – that inner knowing, gut feeling, never lies.

3. Instead of getting caught up in your shoulds and all that you don’t have, shift to what you do have that you love.

This is based on the concept that wherever you are right now in life is right where you should be. It’s perfect for you. If you are in a place where something in your life is not working, if you are experiencing something that makes you unhappy, what is the lesson here? Where do you need to grow yourself more in order to bring this thing into your life?

And what is so perfect about where you are right now? I’ll give you an example from my own life. When I was younger I always thought I’d be married by the time I was 26. I thought I “should” be married by then – my mom was, after all. Why is it so perfect that I’m not? Because I’m still discovering who I am. I’m still at a point where I want to have adventures, where I’m craving more uncertainty in life and variety, where my focus is on developing myself and my biz.

And I’m still getting clear on what I want. The person I was 5 years ago and the things I wanted in my life then are very different from who I am and what I want now. Thank goodness I hadn’t gotten married years ago as I would probably be regretting it to an extent now – I have just changed so much. I am still changing and can feel that I’m becoming more and more of who I really am. The person I’m supposed to be underneath all the layers of persona, conditioning, fears, etc.

This is precious time to me and I am so glad the cards have fallen this way. Whoever I marry down the line will really be a catch because I’m getting better and better at showing up as my best self. This is exactly where I need to be right now.

4. Get back to the FEELING of what you want.

I talk about this a lot and when I work with clients I get them really crystal clear on what their desired feelings are. For example, the core desired feelings underneath wanting a relationship or marriage are often Love. Safety. Certainty. Ask yourself: how can I bring more of these feelings into my life? What can I do (instead of looking outside of myself, what can I DO to bring in more of these feelings?)

Some examples:

  • I can take care of myself and my energy with regular grounding practices and rituals that make me feel more secure.
  • I can meditate and connect with nature to feel connected to the planet, safe and supported. When you go within on a regular basis, you realize that you don’t need to look outward for people, places, or things to supply you with safety and love — you know you can cultivate this within. This drops the neediness and clinginess from relationships.
  • I can practice unconditional self-acceptance and love. If you don’t genuinely accept and love yourself, it’s hard to attract someone who will beam those feelings back to you. Inner love is always needed to bring more outer love into your life.

Finally, remember that everyone is on a different path and our lives are not meant to look the same. We all have unique lessons to learn and we are all here to grow and develop more. Everything we do, think, feel, perceive, has brought us to where we are right now. And we have the power to shift it through changing our thoughts, beliefs, actions, etc. If you are looking for more help with this, please shoot me a message to enquire about coaching. I would love to be your guide ♥