The terrible weight of “should”



Many of us live our wild & precious lives burdened down under a heavy weight of “should”.

Instead of celebrating who we are–can there ever be a more perfect you?–we second-guess and third-guess and quadruple-guess our actions.  We think ourselves crazy with expectations.  We focus on what doesn’t seem to work in our lives, judging ourselves unworthy.  We monitor our every thought, feeling, sentence and paragraph and conjure how we might succeed in becoming the perfect person, the should-less being, the enlightened one.

Worse yet, we often peer for approval from friends, from relatives, from society. We want them to declare us acceptable.  So many of us ache to be liked and fear saying something–anything–to upset the apple cart.

Yet we do.  We upset the cart and apples spill everywhere, no matter how nice we attempt to be.



In other words, we’ve forgotten how to embrace ourselves, to love ourselves unconditionally for who we are.

When we live in a world of monitoring thoughts, saying only what an imaginary judge deems acceptable, we’ve lost touch with our inner muse, our inner joy.

Have you glimpsed small children singing, wandering to and fro, delighted with life?  Do you vaguely recall that we, too, once wandered destination-less in love with the joy of existence itself?

The journey back to embracing our own selves–not society’s expectation of us–can prove the only path worth walking in this crazy awful mysterious painful sweet life.

How do we walk back to our own innocence, our own joy, our uncompromised beauty of being?



Spiritual traditions assure us many paths exist through the snowy woods of ourselves to lead us home to our innate goodness, our beauty, our enoughness.

One of the paths involves clearly seeing that two-headed monster of “should” which we once created to make ourselves more acceptable and glean love from others.

Listen carefully to how many times daily we invoke the idol of “should” and its siblings “would” and “could”.  How many times do we edit ourselves in order to shine more acceptably in the eyes of neighbors?  (And I am not saying that editing isn’t wise.  Editing can be skillful.  I’m talking about editing solely for approval, for validation.)

And in our “shoulding” how often do we turn toward our neighbors, determining how they should act, behave, be?

Do you, like me, catch yourself “shoulding” and second-guessing yourself and others? Do you sometimes find yourself monitoring your truth? How have you learned to turn back to your own inner knowing?

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in January 2014 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to The terrible weight of “should”

  1. Elisa says:

    YEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS! I can should-me more than any other being. I can should me because I’m shoulding lol!

  2. One of the joys of having a few miles on the odometer is that the “should’s” slowly melt away!

  3. Susan D says:

    Well, I should be out starting my car and un-burying it but I can’t seem to find my mittens. Ha! No, I’m lying. I’m too comfortable in my jammies and haven’t made a move to dress. I did do the dishes, though. Ahhhh, I get bad cases of the “shoulds” when I’m feeling vulnerable and insecure. Other times, I’m more gentle with myself which allows me to be much more gentle with others.

    I love this thought-provoking, gentle article, full of wisdom and love.

  4. You know I am always battling the shoulda-woulda-couldas of my life. Today I asked myself the question, “What if I just am?” I’ll let you know what answer I come up with.

  5. Holly Kreag says:

    Good food for thought on this cold Monday. Many folks have just made New Year’s resolutions…some reasonable, some overly-ambitious. This is a good entry to read when we’re being too hard on ourselves.

  6. This is great advice! “Should” is really a dead-end for me, filled with recriminations before I even start. When I find my mind going in that direction, I try to immediately stop it by saying, “Just DO!”

  7. Elisa says:

    “I caution you as I was never cautioned:

    You will never let go, you will never be satiated.
    You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

    Your body will age, you will continue to need.
    You will want the earth, then more of the earth –

    Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
    It is encompassing, it will not minister.

    Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you.
    It will not keep you alive.”
    – Louise Glück

  8. Ally Bean says:

    Well said. Years ago a wise older woman told me: “don’t let the world ‘should’ on you.” I try to remember her advice, but it’s not always easy.

  9. Kathy – our U-verse connectivity is out so I’m limping along on the itty bitty keyboard on my phone. I wanted you to know that I enjoyed your blog this morning – I used it as part of my meditation. Thank you.

  10. Simple, profound words. Thank you, Kathy.

  11. sybil says:

    I’ll second what “central ohio nature” said … I guess I’m lucky as I don’t feel that societal pressure much …

    Love how you choose such thoughtful images to go with your thoughtful words Kathy.

    Wish I could pop over for a “cuppa” and a walk in your woods with you. I know we’re what Anne (of Green Gables) would call “kindred spirits”

  12. debyemm says:

    I guess I did learn some time ago, the value of expressing myself authentically; and yes, sometimes, it gets me in a bit of extended effort, to renegotiate with the “offended” party, the genuine good intentions that always were my heart, but were misinterpreted by the other. And sometimes, I never am able to get that “other” to see the truth of my perspective – not a truth – but the truth of my “intentions” and not their “interpretation”. Sigh. But that has not put me into any fear.

    Yesterday, as I went through my weekly Life Visioning, I actually felt a lot more acceptance of my genuine self than previously, more understanding of why it is absolutely important to “stay” there. It has been awhile coming though. Remember ?, back in the “old community” days, how I would stress about MY inadequacies. Well, maybe you don’t actually; but I remember. That “self” is gone now.

    Truly, it is a journey “back” to what was when we were children, before we were pushed and prodded into molds not of our own making.

    I do love that idea – editing can be skillful. That is the balance I seek. Editing to arrive at more accurately, more authentically, more genuinely expressed, while remaining considerate and respectful. I believe that it CAN be done.

    And oh, that IS a really important aspect – not “shoulding” others. That takes a lot of practice to avoid, as we attempt to enforce our standards of should on others. Best not.

    How have I learned ? By seeking to understand what that core essence of me actually is.

  13. Karen says:

    I believe we worry more about the “shoulds” when we are young. Hopefully we get wiser as we age and learn to embrace the joys of life. Nice post. 🙂

  14. Robin says:

    Oh my. I have had a terrible case of the shoulds most of my life. And you are so right about how we turn it towards others once it’s become part of our own lives. The way I work with the shoulds is to try to stay present in the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be that way all the time? But my mind drifts, and I find myself back in the shoulds from time to time. I wonder if it would help to question the shoulds, and learn what it is they really want? Maybe they want to be woulds, and all they need is a little love and attention so they can turn in that direction.

    I love the image you titled “Would.” I want to throw up my hands in welcome and would. I have to go vacuum first. Not because I should (although I!), but because I like a clean house.

  15. lisaspiral says:

    My mother had a plaque in the kitchen when we were growing up. It said, “I will not should on myself today” I still need the reminder. Thanks!

  16. Pingback: What if I Just Am? | Lisa A. Kramer: Woman Wielding Words

  17. lucindalines says:

    Such a thought provoking post. As always thanks for making us stretch our minds. Great pictures. Your last thought about judging others is just what I needed today before I blog. I was about to dislike something, but perhaps I will be more gentle with my words. Ha! Hope you stay warm today.

  18. Well said! I find that age helps me to be kinder to myself and others. It’s an ongoing battle, though. I was recently hugely helped by being reminded that, although my friends’ opinions are important, I should never look to them for approval.

  19. penpusherpen says:

    Very true, Kathy, I’m a dab hand at ‘should’ ing, and every time I beat myself up, my head lowers even more. Now and again the wave of expectation hits me, but I do fight against it. More often than not, it’s my own self criticism, I’m trying hard to change my view of things. Poems help, which may sound strange, but they force me to see whats on my mind at any given moment. ‘Be kinder to yourself’ should be a motto said daily methinks. xxPenxx

  20. john says:

    Getting lost in the woods is so much less daunting than getting lost within myself.

  21. Brenda Hardie says:

    Ohh Kathy, this strikes a chord deep in my soul because all my life I have been “shoulding” myself. It wasn’t until in my early 40s that I learned to let that go (mostly) and allow myself to simply “be”. It’s a difficult skill to learn when the foundation was not properly laid as a child. So, often when I am suffering from heartache or feeling overwhelmed with worries, the “shoulds” return and weigh me down even more. This has been my concern lately as I stand at a crossroads (still!) not knowing which direction to take and feeling paralyzed by fear when I consider my options. (*sidenote—I did take a teeny step today in a particular direction though so we’ll see what comes of that–). I know much of what I need to do is accept that where I am is exactly where I “should” be right now and tomorrow will unfold just as it “should”. sighhhh—-so many shoulds.
    Thank you for being so gentle and loving with your message today ♥

  22. Bonnie says:

    Ok, Kathy, this proves it. You are in my head. How did you get there? I am a day late in reading this, and yet there you are, saying “Bonnie, read this. It is important for you to read on this day. When I was suffering from a deep depression my psychologist told me that my daily thought should be, “I will not should myself today.” I keep forgetting. Thank you for the reminder, and this great post.

  23. “Turn back my inner knowing?” You are kidding, are you, not? Should and could are favorite words in my life. See, now I’m thinking that I should have written this comment to appear to give the impression that I am more intelligent. 🙂

  24. sandiwhite says:

    Thank you, Kathy, you ARE an excellent teacher.

  25. Dawn says:

    I think I’ve aged past the ‘should’ part of life…and am now wallowing in the ‘want’ part of life.

  26. Heather says:

    I am better at “shoulding” sometimes than others. I tend to take it easy on myself in retrospect – what has happened has happened. But I’m not so good at “what will happen will happen.” I don’t over-plan necessarily, but I have this thing about things being perfect for the beginning. If that makes sense. For instance, I go way overboard on cleaning and preparing for visitors, but then lighten up once they arrive. And I’m working my tail off on a new photography site (might actually make a business of it yet!), when I *could* go with what I’ve got ready already. But my gut tells me I *should* make it perfect and just-so first. Sigh. Obviously I do not have this one figured out. Going to go work on that site now 😉

  27. All the time, I fear! And yes, WOULD is a much better word than SHOULD! All about opportunity rather than obligation. How freeing!

    Stay warm, dear Kathy!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  28. “We upset the cart and apples spill everywhere, no matter how nice we attempt to be.” Oh how this resonates with me! Sometimes it seems the more I try to do everything I “should” do, the more toes I seem to step on. It’s such a relief when I can let go of “should” and let things be.

  29. P.j. grath says:

    On the other hand, don’t we all have room for improvement? I know I do. One of my favorite lines from a movie is when a young pregnant wife says to her immature husband, “God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was close.

  30. Allison says:

    I don’t often make resolutions at the beginning of a new year, but I came across a great article on New Year’s Day that inspired me to try eliminate the word ‘should’ from my vocabulary. I feel so free already!

  31. Beautifully written….and so true!

  32. Munira says:

    Actively engaged in thwarting the shoulds, feeling a little afraid and anxious as I do so, yet it seems there’s really no choice in the matter. I feel a bit like Piglet. 😐
    Thank heavens for Pooh.

  33. Dana says:

    Ah, Kathy. Such an incredible and freeing post! I have been mired in “should” for most of my life, even way back to my childhood, where I grew up enveloped in love and unconditional acceptance. (I think I must have an ‘old soul’ with baggage from previous incarnations. Otherwise, who could explain such solemness and seriousness in a child?)

    Something that works really well for me is EFT (aka ‘tapping’). I try to hit up a weekly group session, and every Wednesday night, I am reminded that I don’t need to do *anything* in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. I am worthy right now, as I am now. (As is everyone in this beautiful universe!)

  34. Stacy says:

    I trust you are a follower of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kathy. He’s my favorite American writer, with whom I’ve reconnected lately. “Trust thyself,” said he. How come that’s so hard to do? ❤

  35. Sid Dunnebacke says:

    All the time, Kathy. All the time. I’m betting the farm, so to speak, that a new direction in like will get me back to thinking like the inner child you speak of.

  36. Pingback: Bring out your dead | 2014 -The Year of The Horse

  37. ‘Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda’ – three words that spell regret. The older I get the more I try to dispense with regrets. I don’t have the stomach for that type of guilt, any more. While I still strive to do right by people, I don’t fear their negative responses as much any more. If someone doesn’t like who I am, I don’t care, as long as I stay true to myself.

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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