This Is What I Should Be Doing Now

How many times do you use the word "should" on any given day?

"I should really do some cleaning today."
"I should have gone to yoga this morning."
"I should try to be more like my sister."

What about the even bigger "shoulds"?? "I should be married by now."  "I should become a banker like my father." "I should want to have kids, right?"

The word "should" is tricky.  It comes from our expectations, our plans for ourselves, either in looking forward to our futures or in looking backward at our past.  In theory, expectations are a good thing.  When we are young and making plans for our lives, expectations give us something to shoot for, a goal, a direction.  Yet, as we grow older, we use these expectations like a road map.  As though it will help us predict our futures and keep fear of the unknown at bay.

"I should go this way, and then I should go this way, and then I will arrive at my expected destination."

But, what happens if what we were planning doesn't work out?  We all know what a detour feels like.  What if you don't get that scholarship after all?  What if your college sweetheart really isn't right for you?  What if you get that marketing job you always wanted and find hate it?

The dangerous thing about making plans for your future is that you don't have all the information yet.  You aren't actually making an informed decision, you're really just making an educated guess. We have to do that, over and over again, or else we might never get out of bed in the morning.  But, we get into trouble when we're so set on these plans that it becomes a tragedy when they don't work out, we cling to our expectations insisting that they work, that they are right.  All the while our real life is moving on without us.

Let's say you always wanted to be an ad man and wear a nice suit, take clients out to dinner, see your work in a 30-second spot on TV.  You work hard through college and the interview process until it happens; you've landed the job at Wieden Kennedy.  Yes!  Your plans are working out!  But, six months into it you are arriving later and later at work, you loathe the sight of tomorrow's suit you have to wear, and client dinners are making you crazy (If I have to drink one more old-fashioned...).  Turns out the only thing you love about your job is the after hours, when everyone else has left for the day and you are alone with your ideas, sketching out new pages for tomorrow's presentation.

What I see in my practice over and over again is this person 5 years later, or worse, 15 years later.  They've finally hit a wall so hard they have to admit their plan isn't working out for them.  Their expectation that this was what they wanted has kept them from feeling like they could stop and say, "Wait a second, I don't like this.  This is not a good fit for me."  As this person sits in my office, they begin to realize they've wasted years of their life on an expectation, on "should".

It is not easy to look back at months or years of work (in your career, your relationship, your lifestyle) and know you need to walk away.  It is perhaps one of the most difficult things for a person to do - to release expectations and allow real life to seep in.  The flashy marketing world may not hold a candle to the quieter and more frugal world of the artist, for you.  The man of your dreams might be a balding high school teacher, rather than the suave hedgefunder you always imagined.  Your dream life might be made up of gardening, cooking, and raising happy kids, rather than the glamour of being an earth-shattering non-profit director.

The thing is, it's all ok.  If it's right for you, if it is your bliss, don't let expectations and plans get in the way.  It's ok if two years ago you were sure you were right, only to realize today you were wrong.  That's life, you have more information today than you did two years ago.

You are the only person on the planet who can live your life like you can.  So forget "should",  forget what you expected things to be like, and look around at how things are.  Look at how you are. Don't be afraid to ask yourself, "Is this right for me?", even if the answer is no.  In facing your fear of the unknown, you might find you're looking at your best possible life.