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Questioning Pesky Shoulds

Have you ever noticed how people say things like "I should be... (insert x y z here)"?

Maybe you have even done it yourself...

I should go to the gym, Frank goes to the gym and he is so fit, I should do that too.

Maybe I should be a working/stay-at-home parent, the other Mum's / Dad's are doing it that way.

Laura has cool new shoes, mine look old and scuffed, I should get some new ones too.

Should's can be so annoying. They can actually make us believe it is our duty to do something just because we are thinking we should be, even if we don't know where that should has actually come from.

I mean, should you go to the gym? Just because Frank does? If you like going to the gym, it might be a great way for you to get fit. But, what if you don't like going to the gym? What if you hate it? Should you slog through three work outs a week there just to get fit? I'm going to take a stab here and say that you probably wouldn't keep up with the sessions if you didn't enjoy them, at least a little bit. Perhaps there is a better option out there for you, like going swimming, dancing, or for a bush walk. Maybe going to the gym to get fit is actually a should not for you, because in reality, doing is something you actually enjoy will make achieving the goal - in this case "to be fit" - far easier.

I have encountered many joy compromising shoulds on my journey, and for many years of my life I was plagued by a few in particular. These icky little "shoulds" kept me up at night and kept me trying at a career that I was never meant for.

"I should go to university and study Design," followed by, "I should use my Design degree and become what I studied to be".

Yep, that was two of them. And those turned out to be two very destructive shoulds for me.

Those icky shoulds really weighed me down. Right. The. Way. Down. $45,000 down in student debt to be exact, and also down into a pit of despair as I fought desperately against what felt right. All along something in my gut was telling me that that life in the design firms wasn't the life for me. I wasn't where I felt I was meant to be. You see, I had always been called creative, which I am, but what I really wanted deep down was something different.

Years before that degree, deep down in the depths of my soul, fifteen-year-old-me longed to have my own family and my own home. To be a mother was what I wanted most of all. Fifteen-year-old-me even had a plan. I wanted to raise three children in a story-book-like house. And to fund that house, I was going to do something that I loved to do, something that drew me in and used all of my talents and abilities.

Retrospectively I realise that fifteen-year-old-me was a pretty wise chick.

So what stopped a fifteen-year-old-me from pursuing this dream? Well, I got caught in a bit of a dilemma.

Though my teen years, my parents were having marital issues. I won't go into details, but let's just say it was really, REALLY messy. So, when fifteen-year-old-me failed maths, I didn't go to my parents and ask for help. I already felt like a failure and - due mostly to childhood trauma - I didn't feel like asking for help would actually help. Instead, I just covered up by choosing other subjects for my final years at school - subjects that didn't involve any maths. Which would have been fine, except....

When it came time to choose a career path and find the thing that spoke to me, I felt intrinsically drawn to psychology. I longed to learn understand the behaviour of others and what made them do the things they do. Alas, when I read the criteria to get in and study psychology at university, my heart sank and my throat blocked up. With no maths, psychology was off the cards - as far I could tell.

I was lost. I had no idea of who to turn to, or how to ask for help.

Luckily, I had a kind photography teacher who showed me that I had enough credits to go and study design at university, if I made a portfolio and got in. My parents advocated a for higher education. They both had not gone down that route and they believed it had impacted their ability to succeed. Mostly due to this belief, I figured I should go to university. And, since I had always been told I was creative, I figured I probably should go down the design degree route. As far as I could tell, based on all the shoulds floating around in my head, this was the "right" option. Even though it didn't feel right.

In short, fifteen-year-old-me fell into the should trap. I began living a life I thought I should be, not the life I actually wanted.

Now this is the funny thing, see, when we say the world should we are actually stating a belief. This belief might be our own, or it might be the belief of someone else, a group of people, or even a societally held belief. But, it doesn't mean is that it is true. When we say should to ourselves, the negative overtone of the word automatically implies that we are doing the wrong thing if we do not follow the should. When I said to myself that I should go to university, I was actually stating a belief, not the truth. Don't get me wrong, university was great. I met a lot of wonderful people who really opened my eyes to the world and shaped the woman I am proud to have become. The trouble was, that while design was fun, it was not my true calling. I was merely doing it because I thought I should be. Several times during that degree I wanted to quit, I wanted to throw it all in. At one stage I even wondered if I could change into psychology... but I had been taught that you should finish what you start. And, that you should keep going even when it is hard. Which are both valid and useful statements... in the right context. Here though, they were just pesky shoulds holding me back from my true calling.

After years of going down the path of shoulds life got pretty miserable for me. I kept on trying to make design work. I was good enough at it, not amazing, but good enough. Truthfully, I doubt I would ever have been truly great at it, I didn't have any real passion. Design didn't call to me, but I kept at it. I kept that lump in my throat and the awful feeling that I was in the wrong place for years to come. And then I made more bad choices. I tried to escape my life in many ways; drugs, sex and alcohol to name a few. Ultimately, following shoulds had created me a life I needed to escape from. It wasn't until I entered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and started questioning my pesky should's that my life really began to change. I started making moves to create the life I actually wanted to live. I listened to my gut and to what felt right for me, despite what others shoulds had to say about it. I found my husband and had two more children, making us a family of five, the family I had dreamed of long ago. I started to build that storybook house, and I proceeded to delve into psychology, neuroscience and the world of coaching. What I am now creating is a life that would make fifteen-year-old-me smile. My life, just as it should be, for me. What I'm saying, is that when a should comes up for you, think twice before you listen to it. Question where that should comes from. Is it is true? Does that should apply to you and your story?

Only you can know the right answer for you.

Above all, I ask you to follow that feeling, the one you get when you know something is right just because it feels right.

That gut feeling is probably trying to lead you to your true calling. Follow it. Even if everything and everyone is telling you that you should be doing something else. Find people who will support you. Ask for help to get there. Because your gut feelings matter. And, I believe your inner pilot light / gut feeling / calling / dharma /or whatever you want to call it (that intangible thing that is trying to guide you), is the only should that actually should make sense.

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