“See that to-do list on your desk?
Grab it. Scrunch it into the tightest ball possible. Drop it in the bin.
This week, this thought has slapped me in the face, over and over again. I’m sure it’s a universal message that it’s time to get this out there: you mustn’t do what you should.
The entire week, I’ve been shrouded in “shoulds.” Every single person I spoke to layered their obligations on top of me—I should find the time to get to the health food shop, I should clean my bathroom, I should go for a run in the morning.
And now, beyond should, I must tell you all something: stop!
Forget it. Leave the shoulds at the door. Do what you want. Do the stuff that you jump out of bed for, and go to sleep thinking about. That’s what you’re meant to be doing. Anything other than that and you’re likely to be pushing the proverbial uphill, and sooner or later, you’re going to get so damn tired of that, it’s going to roll back on top of you.
I did exactly this. For years. My list of should’s was endless—I should be a corporate success, I should be lean and ‘fit’ (whatever that means), I should be debt free and I should buy a house. I should go to university and get only distinctions.
After years on end of this personal prison of expectation, I was exhausted, and desperately unhappy. My job was life-sucking. And while I earned a lot of money, I didn’t have enough leftover to buy my own house or get out of debt after the spending I did to feel better. I felt so insecure about my body as my self-judgement only increased the more I didn’t meet my list of ideals.
The deficit between what I thought I should be and what I thought I was had became so big, I couldn’t keep pushing.
Eventually, I asked myself, if I wanted all these “shoulds” so badly, why was I no closer to reaching them? Why was life so hard? Why did I keep feeling like it was two steps forward and 44 backwards?
Each time I set a goal, I hit a wall and bounced right off in the opposite direction. It had to be more than a willpower issue. And it was—I was headed in the wrong direction.
What I realized was this: I didn’t actually value any of the things I was seeking.
I didn’t want a corporate job. I didn’t want to own a house and be bound to one place paying a mortgage for the rest of time. And my continual pursuit of these things got harder and harder till I was able to realize that truth.
The universe continually delivered metaphorical slaps—challenges, seeming self-sabotage, trip ups and missteps till I was able to realize I was way off track, and figure out exactly what it was I did want.
I quit my job. I made travel plans to cross the world. Then I did it twice again within the year. I was earning half as much, but suddenly I had more abundance than ever—financially, spiritually, physically.
If you identify what you truly value, what you truly want in life and then give yourself permission to go after those things, life gets a whole lot more fulfilling. And smoother.
You gotta believe that whatever it is, you want what you want for a reason—it’s your purpose. Respect yourself enough to go after it, and suddenly, life gets seemingly easier. Set your goals to be in alignment with your highest values, and they’ll most certainly be a little easier to reach.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, there are. But they’re much easier to navigate, and they only serve to teach you that little bit more about why you’re here and what you’re working towards. There’s no longer a need for those universal slaps.
Remember all those times you said you would eat healthier, then a night out with friends and you’re standing at the pizza stand at 3AM? Or what about the times you said you’d get to the gym after work, but a late meeting and a phone call from a friend and you’re clean out of time?
These are little communiques to you that what you’re saying you should do, you really shouldn’t. You’re off path. Perhaps social connection and time with your friends is higher on your values list than the gym?
Accept it. No judgement. Move on.
So as long as you catch yourself saying “should,” that’s exactly what and why you “shouldn’t”. You don’t truly want that thing or that goal. Because if you did want it, you’d be out doing it, getting it—you wouldn’t be sitting there feeling bad about something you’re not doing.
This is the thing about values, we pursue them with unmatched vigor and enthusiasm. Nothing gets in the way.
Do not mistake this for a case of “harden up.” I am not trying to give you a kick in the ass to get up and get going. I am trying to get you to recognize that your life demonstrates what you value—you relentlessly go after, are intrinsically motivated and continually achieve the things that are most important to you. The things that you honestly value; the things that truly nourish you.
Going after anything outside of that is a mistake.
Those things, the things you feel you “should” do, you find yourself reading motivational memes and calling upon others to motivate you toward. You create challenges to get you to stick with something and penalties for failure. Almost always, you’ll come up against an obstacle (a great example is an injury) and it will set you back.
Almost always, you’ll self sabotage your efforts and will find you can never quite get to the finishing line. You’re forcing an apple through a keyhole. And why? Cos someone said that’s what you “should” want, or your layer of shit is so thick you may actually begin to believe it yourself.
Do things because you have a true desire for them, a true resonance with the process and a relaxed surrender to the journey. Don’t do the things you have to force yourself to do. They’re the things you truly, deep down, don’t actually want. And they’re the things that truly, deep down, probably aren’t that good for you.
Continuing to try to live with one set of values while retrofitting yourself into a collection of socially-conditioned and role-driven expectations will only bring you heartbreak and disappointment.
So how do you clear away the layers and find what you’re truly meant to be doing?
Look at your life, and without concern for the roles you play (mother, husband, daughter) ask yourself:
- What are the things that genuinely energize you, that give you a sense of excitement and inspiration?
- What do you spend your money on? You never cringe at paying for things you truly value. You tend to think and worry about the cost of lower priority items or services.
- Where, what and on whom do you spend the most time? You always seem to run out of time for the things that are not important to us (think of that hard, long day at work, when you get to 6PM and you think “oh I should have gotten to the gym, but now I have a dinner engagement at 7PM”… the gym is not your priority.)
Start to watch the themes pop out—you’ll know what it is you really must do. Once you’ve written it down, you’ve given yourself official permission to do those things.
So do them. Align your life around those valued things as your foremost priority, and delegate the rest to someone else (better yet, find someone who’s high priority is your low priority rubbish).
And if you ever feel like you’re getting buried under expectations, roles and fears, keep in mind the following:
Continual pursuit of the “shoulds” will be your downfall. Remove the roles, remove the expectations. Clear off your shit.
Get down to who you truly are, what you truly want and get after that stuff.
That’s the way to success, happiness, and personal fulfillment.” – Joelle Collard