I hate the word "should" more than I...should. You would think it's benign— a suggestion you can take or leave — but it has shaped my life in unhelpful and unhealthy ways. For the last two years I have replaced "should" with "want" — and my life has never been better. Bratty teenagers and young children everywhere know this trick and could teach us something.
For most of my twenties (okay — now you know I'm over 30), I lived by shoulds. I should have an office job. I should pick the nice Jewish boy to marry. I should actually apply one of my two scholastic degrees that my parents paid a lot of money for. I should not complain - I was healthy and had a loving family.
I lived with a guy for many years who was the 'perfect man'. He treated me really well, he had a good job and a nice family. He was attractive, chivalrous and kind. We had a great life in sunny California, which I did not take for granted after moving there from Canada.
On a trip home, when I contemplated staying together or leaving the relationship, my aunt's friend remarked, "You shouldn't be so picky" (um - thanks) "Do you know how many women would love to marry the guy?" "Sure", I replied, "But getting married is not the challenge. Staying married - happily married - is my goal. That's what I want."
It was as if I was channeling a much more confident me, someone who actually articulated her wants without an apology. My brief exchange with my aunt's friend - who I will probably never see again - crystallized what I wanted and shaped the next phase of my relationship.
I returned to California coming into my wants. I wanted to feel deeply connected. I wanted to feel clarity in my job, my relationship and my life. I knew I would not feel satisfied until I had that. I even changed my email passwords to 'clarity' - trying to subliminally signal my brain that feeling clear and grounded in my life was a top priority. I didn't need the ideal match on a paper, but I knew that some of the clichés about knowing when something is 'right' were probably accurate; even if it is not logical.
I was caught between a rock and a heart-breaking place.
I loved this guy and we were great friends, but I left him and moved back to my sister's basement in Toronto without a clue what to do next. While I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco, I did leave with more question marks than I anticipated. What now? Where should I go? What do I want? Sure — it's easy to exclaim what you want when you are fighting against something you don't want. When you are left with all the freedom to shape your life, it can be the scariest feeling. I think some of us invite in the 'shoulds' since they require less of us.
I made a conscious decision to take risks. Risk-taking is linked to dream fulfillment and risk-taking is the ultimate rebellion against the 'shoulds' of our lives. I wrote down a bunch of things I wanted to try and I wrote down who I wanted to be if nobody was looking.
I had to be okay without a sound-byte when people asked what I was doing. I pretended I was excited to explore the unknown. I got some resistance — some people are very uncomfortable with this attitude — but I deduced that it was their sour grapes. Many of them wanted the chutzpah to throw caution to the wind and follow their dreams, too! Even if that wasn't the truth, it helped me stay away from apologizing for not have something safe to say.
I ended up falling in love with my neighbor in Toronto (I figured 'the boy next door' story would make a great sound byte after so many years of American boyfriends); and we moved to my favorite city, New York. Within a month of arriving, I chased opportunities that people told me I shouldn't expect. Many of them materialized, and I feel I have manifested them by taking a few risks along the way and by being open to all the possibilities in my life.
I may not know exactly what is next for me, but who ever knows - - I would rather not know and feel clear on the fact that I am shaping my life from an authentic place and I am honoring myself by feeding my spirit. If that doesn't sound new agey enough, I should add this: the deepest clarity in my life has come from pursuing my passions, being okay with not knowing and leaving the shoulds behind.
I have changed my email password from clarity to something else much more exciting.