Do you struggle with the “shoulds”?
The “shoulds” is a condition that I’ve noticed in my own life, and in the lives of those who struggle with perfectionism – although it can affect others, too!
Someone with the “shoulds”:
“should” try harder. Try harder at being a better person. Try harder at not being so lazy. Try harder at doing whatever thing is the thing to be doing – growing houseplants, becoming a minimalist, buying eco-friendly clothing.
“should” work more. Lean in. Hustle. Have a side-gig.
“should” seize the day more. You Only Live Once, so they should climb the mountain, see the sunrise, eat crickets.
“Shoulds” are burdensome. They lead to constant guilt about all the things we aren’t doing, and to none of the joy about the things we are.
Someone with the “shoulds” basically just feels bad about existing most of the time.
The problem with the “shoulds” is not the recognition that there are things in life that we should do.
Because there are good things in life we should do. We should be faithful to our word. We should respect others, and ourselves. We should live our relationship with God. We should, in summary, love God and neighbor, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
The problem is that the “shoulds” are (a) usually about the wrong things, and (b) leave us feeling not free.
Because there are lots of things in life that really don’t matter much.
Why do you need houseplants? Do tiny succulents secretly drive you crazy? Good news: you don’t need to have them. There is no should. When you’re 65 you can rejoice that pictures of your home don’t look “so 2018.”
Do you have to provide for your family? Great, do that. But it doesn’t mean you need to “lean in” to every second of the day or hustle your way into poor health or have a side-gig that deprives you of sleep.
Do You Only Live Once? Yes. But do mountains and sunrises and crickets make you want to cry (and not in a good way)? Stay home in your plant-free space that you love. Curl up with a novel if that is living well for you.
Shouldn’t everyone be more minimalist? Maybe we should all be aware that life is a gift and material possessions don’t make a life. But do you need to love clean lines and varying shades of white? No way. Enjoy your multi-colored collection of glass ornaments and plastic shelf of hodge-podge memories.
There’s deeper issue at work, though: the “shoulds” often leave us crushed with guilt.
We feel guilty for watching TV instead of climbing mountains, for keeping souvenirs instead of opting for the minimalist, material-free “memory”, for not answering emails after 6pm even though we have worked a full day.
We feel guilt about all the wrong things. About unnecessary things.
What is to be done? Do we throw away “should” altogether? Get rid of all guilt?
For Christians, and really, for everyone who tries to be a decent person, that’s not possible. We know that it is possible to do wrong, and that guilt can be a good indicator that we need to confess our sins. We know there are things we should do in life.
But when it comes to all the other things? The unnecessary things? I’m replacing my “shoulds” with choice, reframing how I approach life.
I choose to replace “I should” with “I choose.”
“I choose” reminds me that I am free. That I have been given the capacity to choose from many good things, and I can exercise that capacity without guilt. “I choose to buy this souvenir. Other people value ‘experiences over things’, but I love, and frankly need, concrete reminders of happy times in my life.”
“I choose” makes me more intentional. Instead of throwing in the towel and feeling vaguely guilty about any activity, I acknowledge what it is that I am choosing. “I choose rest. I choose one more episode of this show over answering emails, because I chose to work a full day already.”
“I choose” allows me to find joy in my own unique choices, and reminds me that I am responsible for my actions, and not those of other people. “I choose to enjoy life in my small town rather than travel to climb Kilimanjaro.”
The “shoulds” are hard to shake when you’ve had them all your life. But you can choose to choose instead!
What about you? Do you struggle with the “shoulds”? What will you say “I choose” about today?