Monday, December 5, 2011


I am not the first person to post about how shitty “should” can feel. What we should do, how we should feel, how much we should be saving, when we should get married, when we should go into debt. Penelope Trunk wrote about should last week. She writes that “There is no should. There is no living up to your potential. There is just doing your life”.

When people told me I should go home because it was raining and buggy on our camping trip, I refused to accept defeat.

She’s right. There are a lot of well-meaning people out there who give us “should” in the form of good advice. The issue is that should can really make you feel horrible when your goals aren’t in line with the imaginary goals that others may have for you, or even worse, when you’re not sure what your own goals are yet. For example; a simple comment from a good friend that the Grige and I should get married before he goes to grad school can send me into a spiral of doubt about my relationship choices because I haven’t made my mind up about that topic yet.
Tina Fey writes about the problem with should quite a bit in her new book Bossypants. Women should work. Women should stay home. Women should be cute. Women should not be gross, political or have a baby after 40. I’m pretty sure that if Tina Fey gets overwhelmed by all the should-ing, I don’t have much chance of surviving my 20s without a few more emotional breakdowns.

Should furniture stores be allowed to make denim furniture? I don't know...

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you are constantly defining and re-defining your goals. This is one of the reasons that I think the mighty list idea is so good. I may be in an irreversible slump at work, but instead of getting depressed because the timing is bad to do anything about it, I can focus on another part of the list, like baking or writing more. If I get injured and am having a hard time running, there are 99 other goals and dreams that I can focus my energy on to keep me thinking positive.
With most big decisions, we seek the opinions of those we admire and trust to help us formulate our own opinion. So how can we ask for feedback without inviting others to should all over us? I have a few ideas:
1.       Frame the question so that they are forced to admit that they are voicing their own opinion as it applies to them, not you. Say “What would you do to save a little extra money” or “how did you approach your last career move?” instead of “what should I do about this problem”.
2.       Lead by example, don’t should on others. If a friend asks you for advice, ask them a series of questions in return to help lead them to an answer on their own. For example, a friend asks “Should I break up with my boyfriend?”. You reply by asking why she is thinking about doing that, whether or not she feels happy, what’s kept her in the relationship so far, or by helping her make a list of pros and cons.
3.       Realize and address the importance of your personal goals and their role in your decision making process. Instead of asking broadly about a situation (“what should I do!?”), say “I’m having trouble deciding whether or not I should move across the country. On one hand, it appeals to my desire for adventure. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem very financially responsible... What would you do?”
4.       Remind yourself that Penelope Trunk and all these other strong women all over the internets and bookshelves are right. There is no should. Only you, doing your life. So tell them to shut up and keep focusing on the goals that do make sense right now. As long as you keep moving, things will fall into place.
Don't worry, if it all gets to be too much, you can always just do your life anonymously for a while. (Disclaimer: that is a candy cigarette, because you really SHOULD NOT smoke).

Good luck defeating the should in your life!

 Double E

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