Don’t Let Others Tell You What You “Should” Do

You know what is best for you, and their “shoulds” may not be it

If there is one thing I wish I had learned when I was younger, it is that no one but you knows what you should do.

This includes your parents, the church, your spouse or partner, your friends, random strangers who like to poke their nose in other people’s business, or authorities and “experts.”

There are many times that we get advice from others that is sound, and when we decide to follow it we get good results. The confusion comes when we think that others know best and we spend our lives trying to follow all the mandates that come along with the word “should.”

If we never developed a strong trust in our own judgement, and our own sense of what we need, we are especially vulnerable to the voices that are out there telling us what we should do. Even if we do have a stronger sense of self, our society is set up to make us question our own wisdom, and defer to others to tell us what we should be doing.

This can send us running from one authoritative voice to another trying to find the answers to life’s most pressing questions. Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? What would make me happy? What am I supposed to do with my life? How am I supposed to be in this world?

There are plenty of people out there who want to answer these questions for us, but in the end, we are the only ones who really know the answers. We are the ones we have been looking for all along to tell us what we should be doing.

If I had learned this when I was very young, it would have saved me so much heartache, and gotten me further down the road I was supposed to be on while I was wasting my time on the side roads that others were shouting I “should” be taking.

The real danger of listening to others tell us what we should be doing is that when we are trying to fit ourselves into someone else’s mold, we will fail over and over again.

We are told what we should be wearing.

We are told what we should be eating.

We are told how we should be spending our money.

We are told how we should be spending our time.

We are told who we should marry.

We are told how we should pursue our spiritual growth.

We are told what we should think and feel and believe.

There is just no way we can “get it right” when we are listening to the voices of so many people who are telling us what we should be doing. Especially when they are all telling us to do something different. There are so many ways we can fail when we listen to the voices of the “should-ers.” It’s enough to make you crazy.

When I was young, an author I admired stated, without any sense of irony, that everyone should start the day standing in the dark, in the kitchen, drinking a glass of warm water. From my great desire to “get it right” — and that meant doing anything that was suggested by someone I thought was getting it right — I attempted to do this.

The thing is, I didn’t always get up early enough to stand in the dark. And, I didn’t like a glass of warm water. I wanted coffee. Consequently, this lasted all of two days and then, when I realized I couldn’t follow the mandate, I felt like a failure. It became another brick in the wall of my self-fashioned prison of not being good enough.

When I look back on this, I see how ridiculous that was, but at the time, I really believed there had to be a way to finally get it right, and that I couldn’t possibly be the one who knew how to do that. I hadn’t learned to trust myself. And this is just one of thousands of ways I tried to adopt the shoulds of others to make myself feel ok in this world.

No one taught me to question those voices that spoke with such authority. I had to learn the hard way. Many people know the sense of being run ragged trying to live up to the mandate of others’ shoulds until we finally get the point we just throw in the towel and give up. When we throw it all down and say “F*%k this, I’m sick of trying to get it right!,” this is the point where we are finally ready to listen to our own wisdom. This is the place we wanted to be all along.

T.S. Eliot said it best when he said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Now, we are finally back home where we started and we can start building our lives based on our own inner knowledge of who we are and what we are meant to be doing with this life we’ve been given.

Now, all those things you were trying to do to “get it right” can be chucked out with the garbage and you can start over. True success comes when we listen to our own voice for a change.

It is never a bad idea to hear what others are saying and suggesting, but the key is to listen for the information and then make a decision based on what feels right to you. Never believe you should do something just because someone else says so.

You are now ready to ask yourself, “What do I want?”

What do I want to be wearing/eating/reading/thinking/believing? Only you know what feels authentic to you. Only you know what will really make you happy. And it may look nothing at all like the popular mandates of what you should be doing. You have all the wisdom you will ever need to live the life you were born to live. Only you can decide what you should be doing in order to make your life feel good to you.

What I have learned is there is only one way to “get it right” and that is to live a life that springs from the well of your true self — the only one who has a right to tell you what you should be doing. And when you do that, there is no possible way for you to get it wrong.

Human learning to be human. Writing in hopes of getting there.

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