Man, I am sick of "should." Every day I see people I care about stressing out about what they should and shouldn't do based on other people's anticipated judgments or expectations. Sometimes those judgments matter (like your boss's), but even then, we have a tendency to pressure and disempower ourselves out of fear.
"Will they laugh at me?'
"Will they think I'm incompetent?"
"Will they disapprove of my life choices?"
Every time I catch myself saying, "I should..." or "I shouldn't..." I try to pause and reflect: Is this "should" helping me reach my ultimate outcomes?
For example, if I tell myself, "I should go to bed instead of watching another episode of Battlestar Gallactica on Netflix," then I'm acting in my long-term best interest by staying healthy and feeling rested for a productive day tomorrow.
But if I tell myself, "I shouldn't introduce myself to a stranger at a mindfulness event," then I'm probably acting out a fear of rejection and robbing myself and the other person of the opportunity to connect and learn from each other.
These examples are pretty "low stakes," but a case of the shoulds can cripple our life improvement process.
"I shouldn't leave this dead-end job because people might judge me or think I can't stay committed."
"I shouldn't leave this emotionally abusive relationship because I might not find anyone better and I don't want to be alone."
"I shouldn't leave my hometown because my family will think I'm trying to be better than them and will reject me."
In every case, we are giving away our power. We are saying, "I could make this better, but I won't try because I'm scared." That fear is totally normal! But what's on the other side of it is happiness, freedom, and more life experiences.
Every time I've hit a major life decision, I imagine that I've made the decision and think about how I feel. That process usually guides me in the right direction and helps me overcome my fears and shoulds.
When I was struggling to finish my PhD, I took some time to imagine two scenarios. One was quitting and focusing on music full-time. The other was overcoming my fears and frustrations and finishing the dissertation.
Although quitting the PhD was a seductive option, when I imagined the impact that I could have by completing the PhD and following my dreams, it gave me the drive to power through to the end (along with the support of my amazing supervisor, friends, and family).
If you are stuck in a difficult situation and find yourself worrying about the judgments of others, just remember that this is your life, not theirs. You are just a blip on the radar screen of their consciousness. They might judge you temporarily, but you're the one who has to live with your life. The more we can stop worrying about others' temporary judgments and pursue our goals, the happier and more driven we will be.
How do you overcome the pressure to conform to other people's expectations for your life? I'd love to hear your strategies in the comments.