Post image for Life Lesson: Give Up the “Shoulds”

Life Lesson: Give Up the “Shoulds”

by Jennifer Heller on April 30, 2013

I’ve been in therapy for two years and some change.

I went to therapy because I was sick of giving myself grief — grief over not being successful enough, not blogging enough, not exercising enough. The list went on and on. I am, and always have been a perfectionist, you see.

A favorite bit of wisdom to help one get over not doing something Perfect-You would have done: “I thought I wanted to do that, but I guess I didn’t want to.”

Forgiveness in a phrase. Repeat the phrase and let it go. For instance, I haven’t blogged in months. I’ve known that each and every day — and known that blogging makes me happy and furthers my goals. Yet I have let the fact that I haven’t blogged dissipate into the ether each and every day and with that decision has come priceless peace of mind. Absolutely priceless.

And, today, here I am. At 12:42 on a Monday night, bursting to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained by way of therapy…the wisdom to give up the “shoulds.”

  • “I should exercise more.”
  • “Coleen should call me to hang out.”
  • “Joe shouldn’t have ignored my calls for a month when I needed him.”
  • “My significant other should have scooped the kitty litter.”

The list goes on and on. These are fake people, but believe you me, I have a list a mile long.

My therapist, Dusky Pierce of Dusky’s Wonder Site, has introduced me to the teachings of Byron Katie. Her name is perplexing (which one is the first name?? huh??) but her wisdom has proved indispensable.

I’m paraphrasing:

Anytime you’re thinking “he should” or “she should”, you are minding someone else’s business.

Let’s turn it around. Do you ever think about what your friends think about you? Would you want them spending their mental energy on what you should or shouldn’t have done in a situation??

  • “Why did she ever quit that secure job? She’d be so much better off if she hadn’t.”
  • “Why did she stop blogging? She should blog if she wants people to think she has follow through.”
  • “She shouldn’t have gotten that great big new office. It’s foolhardy and financially irresponsible.”

Maybe you welcome these outsider’s opinions. Maybe it glorifies you somehow that they are so interested in your life.

Sometimes, it’s true, that good friends open your eyes to parts of your life you’ve avoiding looking at…and that need attention.

But most of it is — perhaps you’ll agree with me — a distraction from one’s own life. A way to feel superior. An excuse for your own bad behavior: if so-and-so and so-and-so do this and this wrong, then I can feel better about all the things that I don’t do as well as Perfect-Me thinks I should.

Or maybe that’s just me.

This idea of these haunting thoughts being someone else’s business has helped me immensely. Not only the simplicity — if I’m objecting (and suffering) because of something someone else shouldn’t have done or should have done, easy-peasy, it’s not my business — but also the release. When you stop worrying about what other people are doing, there’s so much more room for love and appreciation and television.

Ooooh, I know, we are all affected by what others do. It’s true, alas. So what? The weather affects you. The tax rate sure as hell affects me.

You cannot control anyone else be them kids, cats, or boyfriends. 

I try — of late — to employ the following rules when dealing with my own negative emotions:

  1. 1. The mind says something like “I should have cleaned the garage yesterday. Ooooh why didn’t I clean the garage yesterday?” To which my more compassionate mind answers, “Well, I thought I wanted to clean the garage, but it turned out that I didn’t.” Solved. Done. Move on. (This is the part where you have to force yourself…don’t go over it again and again. It’s been decided.)
  2. 2. The mind says something like “So-and-so should call me to hang out if they want to actually be friends and not only be Facebook friends.” This turns around to: “Omg, here I am, minding someone else’s business. They’re doing what they’re doing, and that’s okay.” (Once again, you might return to the question or betrayal. Journaling might help. Talk to a friend. But definitely return to the notion that it’s really, fundamentally, none of your business what someone else does.)

I anticipate an objection here, “What about significant others?” Yeah. That’s a valid point. When you have shared responsibility and obligation, it can be caught up in shoulds. But chances are you respect and love your partner, and trust and love will go so much further in life than “he shoulds” and “why didn’t hes.” If you can’t accept that as true, I’ve lost you anyway as a reader. That’s okay. No hard feelings.

I wonder if at the foundation there is an overarching rule present:

It will all always be okay.

Even if it’s not. Because what are you going to do except deal? What other option do any of us have??

Whatchu think?


I have a Byron Katie book on my bookshelf!!!


Keep going to therapy.  You got a long way kiddo. 

Kat Welsh
Kat Welsh

This is really really great and so in line with where my life has been headed's a great freedom!


What a well-timed and inspiring post! Here I am spending my days wallowing in my lack of blogging, my lack of seeking out better, more impressive clients and shoots, and lamenting that I am not, yet, the photographer I should be today. I.E. making $20,000 a shoot. (yes, there are people out there that do this). 

JenniferHeller moderator

@JHFan01 So great to hear from you Michael! It's such a compliment that you continue to read my blog. Hope everything is going well!

JenniferHeller moderator

@Kat Welsh We're on the same page!! Let's do a karaoke night soon and discuss!!

JenniferHeller moderator

@DanaDillehunt I am so glad that this is well-timed for you!! When you're wallowing, you don't have any room to just be...and you have to just be to get that $20K a shoot that you deserve!! xoxo.

Previous post:

Next post:

Stuff I Love

  • Green Tree Recycled TP

    With 96 (!) rolls, these are a great value. And they come in a big box you could potentially use as a fort later!

    That hits the spot! →
  • Concrete Blonde

    So angsty and yet so relevant. Sing your heart out in the shower… I try to do it every day.

    Yes please →
  • Veronica Mars

    This teen spends her free time solving mysteries!  

    Sign me up for this! →
  • Green Heritage Toilet Paper

    One of the softer eco-friendly options available. Buy bulk and have toilet paper forever!

    Yes, please... →
  • Saved by the Bell

    Zack, Jessie, and Screech teach us what to expect from high school!

    Get Saved! →
  • David Bowie

    From psychedelia to guitar rock to blue-eyed soul, Bowie’s got it all!

    Get some cool tunes! →
  • Singing Machine Karaoke Machine

    A high-tech karaoke machine for home use. It lets you see your performance!

    Don't hesitate -- buy it now! →
  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

    So raw.  So true.  So pubescent.

    Buy Now →
  • Heavy Silverware

    Feel the weight of the fork in your hand. None of that flimsy-ass Target shit.

    Here here! →
  • RSQ Recording Karaoke Player

    This home karaoke player can play music in all sorts of formats, and it records your performance!

    Buy Now →
  • John Hughes Movies

    Masterpieces of teenage comedy! We’ll pretend the Home Alone sequels didn’t happen.

    Me want this! →
  • Marcal Recycled Toilet Paper

    It comes in a nifty roll-out box and is very durable. You could put this right next to the toilet!

    I want to go to there →
  • Willie Nelson

    Timeless songs and performances from the Red-Headed Stranger!

    Get some Willie! →
  • Roku

    Get rid of the cable company and watch TV over the internet!

    Obtain this item! →
  • Green Forest 100% Recycled TP

    The highest post-consumer content of any recycled toilet paper! Also, it’s soft & absorbent.

    I'm ready to wipe green! →
  • The Babysitters Club

    The babysitters weren’t scared. They had a club.

    I want to go to there →
  • 30 Rock

    The wacky antics of Liz Lemon and her crew

    Get rocked now! →
  • Special Euro-Pro Shark for Pet Hair

    It virtually peels the cat hair right off my couch!  LOVE IT.

    Yes please →
  • Cat Carrier

    This is necessary whenever it comes to moving the Guster around town. He proceeds to soil it.

    I must have it →
  • Dreamhost Web Hosting

    Worker owned cooperative…and they’re green.

    Register A Domain Name! →

Thank you for coming by. It’s good to see you.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.