Do you should people? Do you should yourself? Wait…what does that even mean?
Let’s break it down.
Should is how other people want us to live our lives.
On the surface level, when you tell others how they should feel, think, act, you’re not allowing them to live in alignment with their own desires. Basically, you’re telling them how to be.
It happens all the time! As humans, we’re hardwired for connection. We want to fit in. We want to be liked. We might not even realize that we feel pressure to do things based on what others think we ought to do.
Yet I’m sure you’ve heard your fair share of unsolicited advice, or “Man, if I were you, I’d….”
How many times have you gotten a response from someone that started with “you should…”?
On a deeper level, should is everything that has been systematically placed over us from the moment we were born (i.e. you should get a job right out of college). When you really dive into this, it gets heavy and kinda sad.
A personal example of a systematic should: Being from the South in the United States means I was born into a culture of being polite and agreeable. Not listening to these invisible unspoken rules would be considered extremely rude or inappropriate.
If someone says something I don’t agree with, or something I feel uncomfortable with, the underlying notion was to ignore it in order to not be rude, yet I’m learning to live from a place of honesty and openness about who I am and what I want, regardless of the societal expectations placed on me – bless my heart.
Many of us are carrying around this weight throughout our day, not even realizing we’re carrying it! We are like little robots that do everything because we are programmed to do it without a second thought as to what we really want.
Here’s how we can do better
If you’re being should-ed (yes, I’m making up words now), it’s because your friends/family actually care about you and want you to be happy. This is an important piece to remember because adopting a new set of ideals can quickly turn into an absolutism, the ultimate should!
Now when my friends or family share things about their life with me, I try to give them room to go through whatever process they’re going through without immediately jumping into savior mode. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own lives, yet there is something beautiful about holding space for someone you care for dearly, who you want the best for. This is the true meaning of compassion.
To live with a compassionate, open heart is to contact the suffering of others fully and directly, something that can at times be extremely painful. This is the reason why we push aside people’s feelings (and our own!), yet allowing others to go through their own process can be very healing for all involved.
The practice is to bring awareness to how you show up in the world. The more awareness you bring into your life, the more you can show up with a kind, open heart.
Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. – Pema Chodron
The good news
The good news is that you are your own expert.
You are the only person in the world who knows how you’re feeling, all the intricacies of what you’ve been through and how that has led you to becoming the person you are today. Trust yourself and allow others to trust their own inner guidance and wisdom.
When traveling, this takes on an even more literal meaning. Let your intuition guide you. As a conscious traveler, you step into the unknown and follow your inner compass. The more you practice, the more you begin to trust yourself.
Here are a couple of exercises that will bring awareness to the shoulds that may be present in your life. I invite you to try it out for yourself.
Take 5-10 minutes to write down any should that is present in your life.
- I should work harder.
- I should always be friendly.
- I should never trust strangers.
- I should not always speak my mind.
Come up with your own that feel true to you and afterwards, take a close look at them. Examine them, question them, try to understand where they come from. Do you really need to keep them around? Are they serving you and your highest potential?
Now cross out those shoulds on your list.
I should work harder. I should always be friendly. I should never trust strangers. I should not always speak my mind.
How did that feel? Scary? Liberating? Did you feel an aversion to crossing them out? Did you enjoy it? Simply notice your experience.
For the rest of the day, notice how you jump to fix, solution, or change others when in conversation. Instead of immediately giving your two cents, could you listen deeply, openly, compassionately? Could you allow space for them to feel what they’re feeling?