I was chatting with my friend Mary the other day, and she used a phrase that will likely change my life forever. She said, “Shoulds are dangerous.”
Shoulds are dangerous.
As that phrase rolled over in my head in the following days, I began to understand the full implication of its meaning.
Shoulds are dangerous.
My life, and probably most of yours, has been affected by the word “should” in more ways than I ever realized.
From the cradle, our lives are shaped by shoulds.
Girls should wear pink, boys should wear blue.
Girls should play with dolls, boys should play with trucks.
Girls should be kind and giving, boys should be aggressive and powerful.
And the shoulds don’t stop as we grow older.
Women should be married by a certain age.
Women should have children.
Women should wait to buy a house until they’re married.
Society puts a lotta shoulds on our shoulders. Then, we top it off with our own personalized shoulds.
I should be thinner.
I should have more money.
I should work out as much as my gym rat friend.
I should be as pretty as the women on TV.
I should be happier.
Should, should, should….
The power of words is epic. In the bible, the book of Proverbs is full of verses proclaiming that words can lift up or destroy, give life or kill. That’s some serious power. If words have the ability to destroy or kill, how much more can they shape our lives – even without our conscious knowledge? The repercussions are staggering.
As a single girl, I am forced to deal with the “shoulds” of my singlehood every day. Whether looks of shock or pity, prying questions, or disbelief and astonishment over my single status, the messages are clear: I “should” be married by now, I “should” want to have children, I “should” be looking for a husband, I “should” wait to do XYZ until I’m married. All that unwarranted judgment has only one result: To make me feel like there is something wrong with my life.
Here’s a newsflash: There is nothing, nothing wrong with my life.
Is it worse to remain single, or to marry the wrong man because you feel society’s pressure to marry? Is it worse to settle for a desk job with a steady paycheck, or risk it all to be an entrepreneur? Is it worse to passively fill the role society says you should instead of pursuing your dream, or to make waves by daring to define your own role?
All these shoulds leave us feeling unhappy, inadequate, and inferior. They keep us trapped in an unrealistic reality and create a fear of escaping with the risk of social ostracization.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” How many songs have been silenced by shoulds? How much potential is untapped by the restraining power of words? When we bow to society’s expectations, we end up doing, and missing, things we’ll regret later. How sad to reach your last days and realize you haven’t fully lived, only because the “should” overpowered your desire to create your own life.
So here and now I vow to shake the shoulds out of my life. I will throw off the bonds of society’s expectations and live my life my way. Who’s with me? Let’s rattle society’s cage and dare to be different.
Different is the new normal. Vive la Difference!