30 Aug

The Tyranny of Should

There’s a tyrant in your life, six letters long.

It oppresses you, controls you — and you give it power constantly:


Oh, how I hate that word. It’s insidious. It’s laden with judgment, yet seems so innocent. And therein lies the problem.

“I should have known better…”
“Well, you should really do this instead…”

It sounds helpful. It sounds like guidance. But really, it’s permission for inaction wrapped in a lack of belief. Left unchecked, it will drain you dry, cut you off at the knees, take your confidence, your drive, your desire — and give nothing in return.

And you do it to yourself all the time.

Every time you say it, every time you let it pass, every time you let it stand, you’re helping it do its dirty work. You’re giving your power to a despot.

Should is a judge. It’s someone else’s expectations. It says, “The way you are, what you’re doing, is wrong. I don’t agree — but I also don’t have the guts to really say so, nor the decency to keep my mouth shut.”

And when you say it, to yourself, you’re saying you’re wrong, that you somehow value someone else’s opinion above your own, that you don’t trust your own judgment.

But that’s not okay. That’s dangerous. Crippling, even.

Should is empty. “Should” is nothing more than the echo of a gap. A gap in expectations. A gap in what’s normal. A gap between what is and what could be.

Whenever you say “I should…,” or let someone say it to you, you’re acknowledging that gap — even if you don’t know it. The very act of saying “should” reveals it. But you’re also not taking action. And inherent in “should” is a judgment for that, too.

Should is lazy. It lets you off the hook, as if by simply acknowledging the gap the obligation to fill it is complete. But it’s not. The gap is still there, and now you think you don’t have to really do anything about it. Why? Because you’ve said, “You’re right, I should.

But saying a thing is not doing the thing. Words are nothing without action. Demand a path. From others. Of yourself. Fulfill.

Should is cruel. Whenever you say “should,” you’re making an observation — and an unkind one: You’ve judged…and found something (and too often, yourself) wanting. The “should” tells you what someone else would do, but not what you want or need to do, at least not necessarily.

“Should” denies what you’d do. It denies you.

It doesn’t help, it doesn’t build. It only breaks you down.

Should is a coward. It’s a Trojan horse: “Should” is what someone else wants, but it acts like it’s what you want. And whenever you follow “should,” you’re living someone else’s life.

So, in any given situation, the question isn’t “What should I do?” No, the question is, “Whose life do I want to lead?”

I know the answer. So do you.

But anytime you accept the Tyranny of Should, you’re rejecting, devaluing the life you want and need.

Should is just a word. Which means you can defeat it:

Refuse to use it. Refuse to hear it.

When you stop using “should” you force yourself, and others, to say what you really mean. You force ownership of opinion — and action. ”I want to….” “I need to….” “I will….” “I think….”

And once you take that ownership, you’re on the path to closing the gap, to living your life. To taking back the power you always had.

So use it. And not because you “should.”

Image: Roadgoer


  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Wow. Powerful. I know it’s “just a word” but you’ve given this “just a word” a new meaning and me a new perspective.

    I *will* eliminate it from my vocabulary! Thanks, T.

    • http://personalcartography.com Tamsen McMahon (@tamadear)

      Thanks, DJ. I’m not kidding when I say I hate that word — I’d say it’s that word, more than any other, that does damage to people, their self-confidence, and their relationships…and most people don’t even realize it’s happening.

      So every convert to an “anti-should” world is a success in my eyes. Welcome to the club!

  • Cafegirlspress

    Paradigm shift in my POV right now. Thank you!

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