Life Lesson: Give Up the “Shoulds”

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??


8 thoughts on “Life Lesson: Give Up the “Shoulds”

  1. 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).

    • 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.

  2. This is really really great and so in line with where my life has been headed lately…it’s a great freedom!

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