As a psych major, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people who are specialists, well versed in the ways of emotions, behaviors, and the consequences of human action and interaction. One psychologist whom I admire once gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. I was venting to her about a choice that I had made and regretted, and was telling her what I thought I should have done instead. Her advice was this—that using the word ‘should’ tends to be more destructive than productive. It can be filled with expectations and unwritten rules, and is vague. Let me explain. Four reasons to think about skipping out the next time you’re about to throw down the S word:
1. It doesn’t help change your past decisions. I’ve done this many more times than I care to admit—make a decision, and then spend what seems like forever thinking about what I should have done instead. The thing is, though, thinking about what you could have and should have done won’t change what actually happened. When you made this dreaded decision, you did the best you could with the information you had at the time. Give yourself a break. Hindsight is 20-20. You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. Keeping yourself up at night thinking about the should have’s won’t change that. Next time, you’ll have more experience and information to work with.
2. It’s too broad a word to be useful when making future decisions. Almost no choice is ever black and white. Each decision you will make in the future comes with a set of pros and cons, consequences and feedback. Lets say, for example, that someone offers you a full scholarship to law school. Should you accept the offer? Well, that depends. Would you have to move to go to school? Are you already committed to a job or another school? Do you even want to be a lawyer? Accepting the scholarship may be the best decision ever for one person, and a horrible choice for another. If you’re so caught up in what you “should” be doing, you may end up doing what is right for someone else, but not for you.
3. Other people really don’t like to be told what to do. If “23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23” taught us anything (not much) it’s that people don’t like being told what they should be doing. There’s no blueprint, no set of strict rules, that works for everyone. Each individual makes decisions in their life, big and small, based on their own set of unique experiences, emotions, morals, and information. As an outsider looking at someone else’s life, there’s about a 100% chance that you don’t have the full picture, the whole story, all the evidence. Let others decide what is best for themselves, and if you don’t agree with their choices, remember that you may not have all of the information that they do.
4. Always doing what you should is overrated. It’s no mystery that our society can be filled with expectations of what we should be doing—going to college right after high school, starting a career path that makes you enough money, getting married, having kids. At times, it can seem endless and suffocating. Try to remember, though, that just because something is expected of you doesn’t mean you have no choice. There’s almost always a choice, and there’s almost never just one path that leads you exactly where you want to be. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college, and now he’s a billionaire. Christopher Walken was a lion tamer before he became an actor. Kanye used to work at the Gap (couldn’t you tell?). If you want to get married and have kids and a white picket fence, don’t let anyone tell you not to. If you want to spend your life as an un-attached world traveler, go for it. If you want something in between, that’s awesome too.
So the next time you (or someone you know) is faced with a big decision and you start wondering what you “should” be doing, maybe think instead about what you want to be doing. About what you feel is the right thing to do. About what is the best decision you can make at the time. Not what is expected of you. Often, the result is much more rewarding.