Should do? I’ve learned that should is a flag word. It’s a signal that you’re making a decision based on what other people will think, that you’re under pressure to live up to some self-imposed standard. You should have a 9-5 job, you should have more friends, should be settling down, should pay off student loans.
Should you be crying before breakfast? Should you be vomiting afterward because you’re so freaked out? And why are you sad or stressed, anyway? You should be happy, because you’re learning a lot, you have a great work environment, you’re not a high-profile executive and you get your weekends off. You have plenty to be thankful for. It could be a lot, lot worse.
Spring is here. The windows are open, the breeze is warm, and the sun on my skin never felt so good. Should? Screw that. I’m 23. I’m single. I have no kids. Why should I be settling down and working full time? And who’s telling me to do that? Not my parents. Not my sisters or my friends. My sister Madison, at a wise five years of age, told me, "You need to tell your boss you are an artist!"
In fact, everyone I’ve talked to has said something like, “You gave it an honest try, no sense in sitting around being unhappy.” And some even say, “I wish I could make a change like that.” Alright, I understand that there are things you can’t control—you’re not in good health, you have kids to support. You aren’t ready to stop trying to make your current situation work. Fair enough.
But if it’s something internal holding you back—something like, oh, let’s just take a wild guess and say fear—maybe you can feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear that the change will be worse than the present, you’ll lose your comfortable routine, you’ll have to live more frugally. Fear that you really don’t know what will make you happy, or that people will disapprove of what does. I’ve noticed, though, that every time I want to make a change and I worry that nobody will like my choice (and therefore I won’t be able to enjoy it either), the people closest to me are supportive! Whaaaaat? My loved ones want me to be happy? Who would have thought?!
Am I scared to move across the country to a big city where I know no one? Um, YEAH. Am I afraid I’m not talented enough to get into a competitive grad program, afraid I’ll never meet someone and fall crazy in love, afraid I won’t get the life I really want (which is what, exactly?)? I’m SCARED SHITLESS! But I know I can’t stay where I am. Those things I want aren’t happening here.
Yesterday I joined in a scavenger hunt and spent 2 hours wandering around in the woods at a nearby nature center. When I decided I was done, I consulted my map and wished I had brought a compass. I walked around a family with lots of tiny children getting their itty-bitty shoes stuck in the mud. I crossed a couple of bridges. This trail seemed to be winding on a lot longer than expected. Eventually I reached a sign that said, “Public Hunting Area.” I stood still, deciding, and a big old turkey wobbled by. He was pretty, with oily, shiny feathers, and despite his awkwardness he was magnificent in the way that all wild animals are.
According to my map, I could stay on this safe path and be back to the parking area in another hour. Or I could turn around and choose a different fork, hoping another trail would take me a better direction. I turned around; passing the family (who must have thought I was ridiculous back tracking for no good reason) and crossing back over the bridges. I veered right onto a new trail and reached my car 10 minutes later. Okay, I’m a bad navigator—I abandoned the scavenger hunt and got lost, but I did see the turkey in the midst of all that. Then I took a risk and backed up, switched paths in order to reach my destination. You can connect the metaphorical dots here.
Last time I made a change I ignored my urge to move somewhere warmer, closer to the ocean. I made the 'should' choice. I’m not saying it was the wrong choice, because a lot of good things have happened. I’ve learned tons at my job, made wonderful new friends, and been super productive in the painting studio. There are wrong paths, but I think we mostly decide between an infinite number of right ones. And I’m ready to choose a different fork.