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Turning Off the Shoulds

Encountering something three times wakes you up to the idea. I’m making the third time.

The first time came in the form of a comment. On the post about Ava DuVernay’s speech at BlogHer, Mrs. Gamgee said something that resonated with me. She wrote:

I have been pondering this idea too for some time. I have come to the realization that a lot of my hesitation to ‘take’ my dreams stems from how I was raised. When I was a kid it was drilled into me that I could only do what I wanted to do after I did what I should do. Want to go to the mall, or hang out with friends? Clean your room, do your homework, and help out with the household chores first. Not a bad plan, really. But I find as an adult, there is never a time when my should-dos are actually finished, and that makes it very hard for me to take the time to do the things that I want to do. I’m trying, for the first time in my adult life, to figure out a way to balance the stuff that needs to get done with the things that I want to (need to?) do to feed my soul.

Oh. The shoulds. I have the shoulds, too.

Then I encountered it a second time. AnaBegins spoke about what she learned from vacation, and how to apply it to every day life.

The “shoulds”. This is my issue. I just can’t relax until everything is done, and there is always something to be done! … My brain just runs through the list and calendar I keep in my head (they are copies of the actual ones I keep, I DO write things down!) — home, work, kids, dog, others — making sure I haven’t forgotten to buy a wedding present or schedule a dentist appointment (two things I need to do today!).

The shoulds again.

Until I read it in these two places, I hadn’t really put my finger on this division: the people ruled by the shoulds and the people who give equal weight to the shoulds and the everything-elses. Josh is really good at carving space for himself so that when he tackles the shoulds, he tackles them productively. Whereas I am so focused on checking off each item on the shoulds list that I often get to the end of the day and realize I have done nothing for myself. My entire day was lived to do work and take care of the house and take care of things for other people.

Here’s the thing: sometimes I note this fact and feel resentful, which is probably a sign that I should have set aside the shoulds for a bit and played a game or read a book. But other times, my day goes the exact same way and I feel good getting into bed knowing how many things were checked off the to-do list.

The problem is not knowing which way my brain will process my loyalty to the shoulds.

Does your day feel ruled by your shoulds, or are you decently good at setting aside the shoulds from time to time and prioritizing other things?


1 a { 08.05.15 at 8:24 am }

There is always something else to be done. Work and upkeep never end. So it’s pointlessly draining to try and get everything done before taking time for yourself. My husband likes to describe it as juggling glass balls with rubber balls. There are plenty of rubber balls that you can let bounce – the trick is knowing which are which. Lots of people tend to see themselves as the rubber balls, when they’re really glass (thicker glass, but glass nonetheless). Personally, I am extremely delicate. :D. (Not really, but I do know that I require lots of time to just do nothing in particular or I get extremely crabby.)

Even the projects I take up for my own entertainment sometimes get pushed to the side because I don’t want to expend my energy there. My husband complains about the many items I have for various projects that I’ve never finished. Well, I’ve never actually started them; I merely gathered supplies. When I have the energy to take them on, they’ll get done. In the meantime, my Hay Day farm needs me. And there are blocks that need stacking in 1010.

2 Noemi { 08.05.15 at 9:44 am }

I think I might be TOO good and ignoring the shoulds. Sometimes I want to care about them, but I just can’t. They overwhelm me. With less than two weeks before school starting and a big (for us) trip to San Diego next week I’m finding myself absolutely paralyzed by the shoulds, so I’m totally ignoring them. Instead I plowed through The Boys in the Boat just in time for book club (a should I guess, but the rubberiest of shoulds, as “a” would say–I loved that comment about juggling the glass and rubber balls). Most nights I leave the house a mess so I can write; which is a double edged sword, because I feel better when I write but I also feel better when the house is clean. It sucks I’m not a good enough time manager to accomplish them both. Then I would be the kind of my world. 😉

3 Katedaphne { 08.05.15 at 10:22 am }

My husband went to a conference for work a few years ago and one of the seminars was about how to prioritize, including labeling some things as “urgent” and others “important.” The problem is that sometimes things that seem urgent are not always that important. Perhaps reframing “things I want” (sounds like a luxury) as “things that are important” can help in this challenge.

4 nicoleandmaggie { 08.05.15 at 10:30 am }

Shoulds are the only way I get things done, and stealing time from them actually seems to make the wants a bit more fun. Maybe I like the excitement of the illicit. I’m also most productive when the should that I’m doing isn’t as important as the SHOULD hanging over my head. Productive procrastination FTW!

With all of that, I do allow myself one day a week to not work and not feel guilty about not working, usually Saturday.

5 A. { 08.05.15 at 11:36 am }

I feel this way for the entire school year. (In English, there’s virtually no way to keep pace with the grading and also run a household, have a life, be married, etc.) Like anything else, it’s about striking that balance, which comes from planning and “carving out time” as you said Josh does, even if obligations suffer. This is the 21st century life, where the average person is just juggling too much all the time and we have to care for ourselves as human beings by saying “no” or “it’ll have to wait.”

6 Jess { 08.05.15 at 12:52 pm }

Ah, the shoulds… My wonderful therapist tells me (over and over) “Stop shoulding on yourself!” I have actually gotten way better at the balance since nearly losing my mind during the last gasps of our infertility treatment days. I need self-care. I need to take time to read, to schedule massages with some regularity, to make space for sanity. It’s a lot harder to do during the school year, like A. said, but I try to carve out at least an hour a day for myself. And I get really, really cranky when I miss it. My husband, on the other side, is a total should-er… he needs to finish his (impossibly long for one day or even week) to-do list before he will do anything for himself, and if he does take 20 minutes to play his guitar or something, he feels tremendously guilty. It’s so hard to balance it out, and then I feel guilty when I am reading and he is a buzzing busy bee all over our house. I’m sure this will get better when we are finally parents… HAR HAR.

7 Ana { 08.05.15 at 2:12 pm }

love the rubber/glass ball analogy by “a”, and the “urgent” vs. “important” distinction that all time management experts tout. obviously i’m no good at this…will check back to read more ideas.

8 Peg { 08.05.15 at 4:59 pm }

I am literally drowning in my shoulds. Too many of them and not enough me to go around.

9 Suzannacatherine { 08.05.15 at 7:52 pm }

I’m definitely a should-doer. I can hear my mother’s voice asking if I’ve finished a, b, c, and d before I walk up to the corner store with the girls down the street.

Yesterday I took on a huge project and it ran longer than I expected. I always end up doing “just one more thing” that will make everything “better”. All it really does is make me never have time for myself. Then the cycle of should do vs must do starts. And both lists are generated in my own brain. And once again, I hear my mother’s voice admonishing me to be “useful as well as ornamental.”

This has been a problem all my adult life. I recognize it, but without some serious therapy I seem unable to CHANGE my evil/wicked ways.

10 deathstar { 08.06.15 at 12:52 pm }

Story of my life. I look back over my life and think about all the time I spent cheerleading boyfriends who did nothing purposeful to support me. Fast forward to present day and I’m always expected to fit my life around other people’s schedules. Sometimes even my at home transcribing work. “Why don’t you work at night so we can do blah, blah, blah?” The stuff I really want to do never seems to get done, but I realize that I’m responsible for prioritizing it. So these days, I’m practicing no longer asking permission. People can get on board or get stuffed.

11 Sharon { 08.06.15 at 5:33 pm }

My days are ruled by shoulds. Except for the 30-60 minutes each evening I spend vegging out after my sons go to bed due to sheer exhaustion.

12 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.06.15 at 7:01 pm }

I’m pretty anal (dislike that word) about duty first, enjoyment second. But I’m also pretty anal (ick) about getting the enjoyment piece in order to keep the engine propelling itself.

13 Geochick { 08.07.15 at 10:40 am }

I have the shoulds all the time. It’s how I operate. Lately, it’s been getting me down and I’m realizing I really need to work on balance.

14 Junebug { 08.07.15 at 12:36 pm }

This post has been circling around my brain for a couple of days. Sometimes I get frustrated with my wife b/c I believe that I am handling more of the “shoulds,” the grocery store, the dishes, the laundry (although not cleaning the bathrooms that’s strictly R’s territory) but I realize that R thinks she is doing shoulds too. Her shoulds are just different than mine, stripping paint off the old heating grates, building shelves, redoing the bathroom baseboards. Rather than comparing our shoulds, I think it’s more important to notice how much energy we both spend shoulding rather than finding new ways to be still. Especially now.

15 Mrs. Gamgee { 08.10.15 at 12:38 am }

Glad that my own little conundrum could help you pinpoint your own. 🙂 I have to say that I am sometimes like Noemi above, paralyzed by my shoulds, which just compounds the problem. My brain seems to be able to justify “oh, you should wash the windows, clean behind the fridge, and sort the wee-lings toys/clothes? And you’re planning on doing that reading/writing that you want to do as soon as all that is done? Well, I have a better idea. Let’s just sit here and binge watch Poldark instead.” Yup. Real productive.

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