The Weight of The "Shoulds"
What happens when we try to be someone we are not? What do we do to our Souls in the pursuit of stuff or superficiality? Where do we bury our dreams?
When I was young and all the way into my early 30's I wanted my family, friends, and peers to be proud of me for my success and material accomplishments. I associated success with making a lot of money. I associated the attainment of wealth as a marker of my value in their eyes. I sought to be and achieve what I thought they wanted. What I should be.
I wanted them to validate my worth.
To do that, there were many conditions - many 'you should' statements. Some were explicitly stated, for example by parents, family members, friends, teachers, etc. Some were inferred by stories, society and culture. And still others were implanted by media. These statements became unconscious context, beliefs, goals, metrics, and measuring sticks. They are 'The Shoulds'.
WHY SHOULD I ANYTHING?
One of my all-time, most used lines is, “It’s my life! You can’t tell me what to do!” Yeah, the teenage years. I consistently felt shackled by my parents and by all these expectations but I didn't know where they came from. I was surrounded. Engulfed. I didn’t have any control or even understanding of my energy and how to manage it. I simply felt something heavy and wrong and wanted it off!
Why then, if I was railing for my independence, was I ascribing to a life of expectations and shoulds? Because I didn’t know any better. I didn't have the awareness, the experience, the wisdom or the guidance.
This is why I’m so passionate to bring this message to more people, especially to women. The message that we can write our own rules and we can create the playing fields before setting foot in them. We can manifest the canvas before even thinking about picking up the brush.
I firmly believe that we can define anything to be in alignment with our internal ideals. Identifying The Shoulds and working to release the stigma or the hold they have on our lives is a powerful way to clear energy, self-doubts and fears. It's a process of clearing the path to pursue our soul-centered goals and aspirations.
The first step is identifying all the "You should" or "I should" statements that run on autopilot in our minds. Once we bring awareness to The Shoulds, it becomes easier to look at them objectively, with curiosity, and ask ourselves if we really, actually, truly 'should'!
THE SHOULDS LIST
Here's a small sample of my 'should' list:
what I should be,
what I should want,
what I should do,
what I should achieve,
what I should own
who I should be,
who I should marry,
who I should have as friends,
how I should look,
how I should behave,
how I should speak,
when I should speak,
when I should not speak ...
You can see where this is going. The 'should' list is familiar to many of us. And realistically, if we want to dig it up out of ourselves, this list can be pages and pages long. That exercise - of excavating the shoulds that are haunting us in the backs of our minds, in critical whispers, and at inopportune moments, brings us face-to-face with the voices of shame, guilt, and indebtedness.
We are living with voices in our minds that speak in shoulds. These are especially harmful to women. They speak the language of cultural and societal norms, propagated through the media and the collective ego that wants to keep us playing small. This language, defined by shoulds, is NOT in alignment with our authentic, passionate, creative, fierce, fiery selves! We are carrying baggage that subversively holds us back. That keeps us disconnected from our passions and from our authentic selves. And we don't consciously realize it.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS IS PAVED WITH SHOULDS
For women in the 20th and 21st century the definition of success has been blown wide open. The battles that the women before us went through have won back many of the rights that had previously been taken away over centuries of denigration and oppression. We've come a long way, but we also have a long way to go to totally reclaim what it means to be fully a expressed and thriving woman.
While we have more freedom, we are still limiting ourselves to ideals of success that are defined by patriarchal qualities and attributes. Career, money, power and material gain. Having more equals being more, or so we are led to believe. We got on the career path, put on suits and went to work. We are playing in arenas that are not built on ideals or goals that we had a say in defining.
But we've shown that we can play. And we play hard. There's a lot at stake and we feel the pressure. We thirst for expression of our value and our worth. Sometimes, this pressure and this drive can take us far away from the internal values and attributes that give us our real power - internally oriented and true-to-ourselves as women.
We're still impacted by many should statements about what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. And by the way, let's do it while having kids, raising a family, staying young and attractive, managing the finances, planning for the future, and pulling this all off in stilettos.
We work, we earn, we manage, we lead, we invest, we build. Yet, how many of us are in the position to create the rules? How many of us are creating new playing fields? Thankfully, some women are doing that. And I'm ecstatic to know some of them, and I meet more every day. They are out there - the women who are bucking shoulds and redefining success for themselves while simultaneously creating different and better canvases for the creation of our life’s works of art.
Success is different for each of us. The shoulds around career, attainment and worth as expressed by job title, salary, or profession can hold us back from pursuing the inner dreams and desires that fuel our passionate fires. From painting the complex, rich, fluid, emotional and hauntingly captivating landscapes of a fulfilling life.
Success is, like wealth or health, a personal and dynamic definition. If we think we ‘should’ ascribe to success as defined by corporate culture, we are not giving ourselves the best opportunities to truly be successful.
My idea of success used to be based on the career, title, path, salary, bonuses, and the lifestyle that I should have. Then, I thought, I would be showing them what I was worth! I would prove my value. They would have to acknowledge me as equal.
How did that work out? Not well. While outwardly you could say that I achieved and succeeded in some areas, inwardly, I was not happy and not fulfilled. I was so far away from my center and had lost my internal compass. I was just playing the role, sucked into a game I could not win, with rules that were not fair. They were not meant to be. I could play, but I was playing the fool.
THE LOOKS (SHOULD) HAVE IT
At a certain point, past the awkward teenage years when I began to feel a little more comfortable with my physical body, a different kind of should list creeped into my life. Though these shoulds did not directly impact my sense of success in the eyes of others, they were psychologically persistent in determining a different sense of self. Of acceptance, desirability, value, and conformity to the definition of beauty.
The incessant, pervasive, destructive and unholy twisted concepts around our bodies, our faces, our hair, our fingernails, and every external aspect of our beings. I'm talking about unboxing the long list of shoulds around body image, beauty and aging.
What a woman 'should' look like - especially at certain ages - per specific religious or cultural decrees (all of which are man-made), or by what our media-driven society believes is appropriate, is one of the most shame-inducing and soul-destroying diseases in our culture.
Did I just call body-image issues a disease? Yes, I did. And it affects a clinically-diagnosed 200,000 women a year in the United States based on Mayo Clinic research. There are 4.4 million hits for body image disorder on Google. Body dysmorphic disorder, which is a diagnosed medical condition, is associated with emotional issues like anxiety, depression and trauma. Distorted body image (a.k.a. negative body image) refers to an unrealistic view of how someone sees their body ...
It is the rare woman who does not have an unrealistic or distorted view of her body. How many women are undiagnosed? Hundreds of thousands. I am one of them. How many of us are plagued by painful internal thoughts around the way we should look? Thoughts that can easily be sustained or supported through denigration by vulgar external media, misogynistic trolls and insensitive people?
I am inspired by women who are so comfortable in their bodies - no matter the color, size or shape. I have not always been in this positive, accepting, frame of mind. I was very caught up in how I should look so that I could 'appear' beautiful, confident, professional, put-together ... fill in the blanks, we know the list is endless.
Even today, with all the personal development work I've been doing for years, I am still afflicted by body-image issues. I get caught self-calipering my thighs more often than I want to admit, and I have some pretty bad days that go beyond sneaking a pinch or two. The mental turmoil is real. We are held back by false ideals around beauty and body
And its unnecessary. Because it isn't about health. It's about living up to some shoulds that have no basis in reality and do not propel us to be happy or healthy or thriving as women.
THE SHOULDS: A SELF-INQUIRY
From early childhood we are bombarded with words, concepts, beliefs and ideas from outside of ourselves about who we are. About who we should be. As we grow up and get busy with increasingly frantic, fragmented and distracted lives, the should statements become a normal part of who we are. Who we think we are. So many choices are made based on 'The Shoulds'.
It’s like a peanut gallery. A cacophony of voices. Nasty, dirty little monsters - some more dangerous than others - that live in our minds and never stop chattering. They feed our ego's need for control and subservient obedience to playing small. To not shining our light. To not stepping into our empowered hearts. To not going for our dreams and desires.
Start withe listing out all your Shoulds. Look at your list and go through each one. And do an inquiry with some questions, for example ask yourself:
Why should I?
Who says I should? Is it their rightful place to say this? Is it even still valid or is it something from the past that can be let go?
Is it what is truly best for me? Is it what I want?
What is the worst possible consequence of not doing what The Should is telling me to do?
What is the best possible outcome if I do what I want to do instead?
Whatever comes up will be easier to dissolve, forgive and release because it is a process of identifying, and looking with curiosity, without judgement, and with the intent to let go.
We live within the limited and limiting definitions of should. But we don't have to. Identifying when we are listening to The Shoulds and questioning whether an action, decision or choice is what's best for our real selves, is necessary to take back the power of conscious, constructive life building. Paving the road for ourselves with our own definitions, concepts and beliefs in what is right for us!
We need to get down to our Soul’s passion, past the shoulds and oughts of our lives to the deep truth of our Souls.