By Robyn Young
I have a love/hate relationship with the word “should.” The thoughts running through my head often follow this pattern: “I should clean the kitchen.” “I should speak nicely to my dog (or children, or spouse, etc.).” “I should finish that project I started.” “I should turn off the television.” I should, I should, I should… That’s the hate part of the relationship, the part I use as a measuring stick that always leaves me falling short. Then there is the love part of the relationship: “Please just tell me what I should do, and I’ll do it!”
It’s not just me with this struggle, I know. It’s a societal infection. We live in a world where, from the time we are five years old (or sometimes younger), we are put on a path that is entirely outlined for us: “You should go to school, you should get good grades, you should participate in lots of activities, you should go to college, you should get a good job, and you should look forward to retirement!” What if all the “shoulds” don’t bring the happiness you expect or want? There are even “shoulds” for that: “You should go back to school and find a career better suited for you.” “You should find a hobby that you really love to do.” Or, for the really desperate, “You should abandon your entire, stifling life and start over with something you love.” Isn’t there another possibility?
Do you remember what it feels like to dream? You may have to go back pretty far. What do you want to be when you grow up? Is it the same thing you wanted to be when you were four? We start on the “should” path so early that we may have to remember that far back to find our inner dreamer again. I finally realized that in order to get what I want, I need to define it-write it down in great detail. But then the battle begins: What should I want? It is so ingrained in me that instead of wondering what I actually want, I start dreaming within the “shoulds.”
How do you rediscover that ability to dream and create? How do you get in touch with what makes your heart sing? How do you silence the “shoulds” and follow your path?
- Develop your spirituality. Spend time in prayer, meditation, and with good, inspirational literature. Develop a personal relationship with God. Learn to identify when He is speaking to you. Keep a journal of your spiritual progress.
- Love yourself. In the New Testament Jesus said “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Loving yourself is a prerequisite to loving others! I’m not talking about indulging your every whim, I’m talking about being patient with yourself, forgiving yourself. Be compassionate with yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. See all the goodness and potential within you-you are more amazing than you could possibly realize! Ask God to help you see yourself in this way.
- Discover your talents. Start by playing. Pay attention to the experiences that provide the feelings you are seeking: peace, joy, fulfillment. And trust your instincts. Your idea of “play” may not look like playing to someone else.
- Trust that the experiences of your life are clues to your self-discovery. Which events and people in your life are most difficult for you? These are gifts! There is something for you to learn from every difficult experience! Do you look for lessons in these kinds of experiences, or do you try to escape? Looking for the lesson is hard, but learning from the experience brings you closer to what you want: peace, joy, fulfillment.
- Dream. Start to create the life you want in your mind. It doesn’t have to seem possible; in fact, if what you really want seems impossible, it’s even more important to create and nurture that dream! Pay particular attention to the feelings you want to experience: energetic, excited, relaxed, easy-going, flexible, fulfilled, at peace, confident…add whatever feelings are important to you. Then start to believe in the possibility of that dream.
There will be things you should do. But who is telling you what those “shoulds” are? Be the creator of your life. The “shoulds” will vanish, and a path to your ideal life will start to form. You’ll know what you need to do as you learn to listen to what your soul is telling you.