The shoulds stormed my mind and created chaos in my life.
“I should have everything figured out by now.”
Ever keep yourself so busy that when you finally look up and around you, you don't even know how you got there? I had this exact massive realization when I was a burnt-out workaholic in the tech industry. The constant churning of chasing one deadline after another and tackling fires that popped up kept me so busy that I ignored other areas of my life.
Has this excuse come up for you: You thought you had to be successful in your career before you could… (fill in the blank)?
For me, it was “I had to be successful in my career before I could attract a great partner”. But deep down, the reality was that I felt like I had to be successful in order to DESERVE a great partner.
Wtf?! How did I turn my career status into my sole sense of worth?
My unconscious sacrifice
When I woke up from this churning daze, I realized I gave a lot of blood, sweat, tears, heart, and the golden years of my life to my work. I should've been married by now. I should've had kids by now. I should be owning a house by now (Ok, fine. This is challenging for its own reason in the Bay Area).
Instead, I traded the life I wanted and the ability to enjoy my desired lifestyle for a sense of security in the form of a large paycheck and corporate perks.
We oftentimes have an underlying limiting belief that becomes a safety blanket for us to hide under, instead of facing and addressing the problem at hand. It felt easier to churn my energy and focus at work because I knew how to do it well and what to expect. With dating, I felt lost. It didn't come as easily. It felt completely unpredictable. It didn't just happen organically in the way I expected.
“I should/shouldn't be doing all this.”
There is so much noise bombarding me every moment and constantly reminding me of all the stress, pressure, and guilt of needing to have more, do more, and be more. The shoulds in my head and the shoulds people kept telling me were deafening. All that information just kept on feeding into this not-enoughness.
“Sorry, you’re not enough”
So you should act like this instead. Do these things to have all your dreams come true. Or have this and it’ll solve all your problems! In other words, here are these magic shoulds that’ll give you instant gratification and the one-size-fits-all answer to solve everything. Trust me, I've succumbed to a lot of those types of marketing pitches. But they don't always tell you everything. I've invested tons of money, time, and effort to realize… wait, is this really what I want or need? Is that truly the right solution for me?
All these external influences from social media, influencers, inbox, ads, news, advice from others, etc. all played a part in me edging once again towards burnout and frustration. My suggested to do list just kept on growing exponentially. (UGH! Where’s the off button on this thing?)
What do you do when the answers aren't clear?
Here’s the brutal truth
I was subjecting myself to all of this. There are limitless amounts of information and options out there. More and more are being created by the seconds. I chose to get overwhelmed by chasing for more information, listening to too many voices, and being influenced by it all.
The shoulds will always be there, but it's MY choice on how to filter them, listen to the ones that resonate with me, and discard the rest.
As a result, I called a time out.
…then I turn for answers within
I went within to figure out what the hell is going on with me. I can’t keep on doing this… All these shoulds were burying me!
I could sense that my motivations weren’t in the right space. I felt like I was just doing things because other people told me so. I started feeling dread doing things that should’ve just flowed out of me.
With work, I have so much to share, but why wasn’t I sharing it? I was getting great feedback on the impact I was making on others from my coaching and content. I enjoyed writing content and sharing my experiences on Instagram, but what happened to all the fun? All the overthinking and overplanning killed it!
In dating and relationships, I was overwhelmed and underwhelmed by all the dating and love advice out there. It was even worse when I got confused by all the conflicting dating advice. It felt like I was twisting myself into a pretzel trying to make the “right” impression versus just being myself.
I had to figure out who I truly am, so I could show up more authentically. I needed to dig deep to find my own actual motivation for all this. Things felt off for me, and I had to address it before charging blindly, full steam ahead.
Bring on the awareness
I noticed how I was feeling: dread, lack of energy, unhappy, stressed, etc.
I looked at how I was reacting to things: procrastination, avoidance, forcing my way through things, staring at them blankly, etc.
I evaluated my results: not motivated, lack of dedication, not putting myself out there, not meeting my own goals, poor follow-up or follow-through, etc.
Yikes! Who is this person?! Is this who I truly want to be? (*sheepishly* No…)
Have you reevaluated your life recently? Have you had the chance to take a hard look at all the balls you’ve been juggling? Do you need all of them? Have you taken stuff on just because others wanted you to or it’s what you “should” be doing? Honestly, do you even like juggling?
Take action then reevalutate
1 – Tailor down the information you are receiving and absorbing
I made a new choice to brutally cut down the noise. I stopped following the news and the latest trends. I took a pause on social media and dating apps. I said “no” to opportunities that didn’t excite me or align with my goals. I really took note of who I was spending my time with, and how I felt after hanging out with them, too.
With fewer distractions, it allows you to focus more and be more present. It'll give you the space to think more creatively and effectively, too. Practice more self care, and discover what you truly need for yourself. Established routines that'll help you stay grounded.
2 – Do things more intentionally
I gave myself permission to just do what I enjoy doing, what feels right to me at the moment, and say “no” to everything else. I was able to notice what was important to me as I wanted to spend more time on certain projects or with the people I wanted to be with. What didn’t matter just faded away.
Let go of all the guilt, shame, disappointment, and fear nagging at you. Be a rebellious teenager and tell those voices: “I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway!”
3 – Stop chasing for more and more external knowledge
I had plenty of info and resources, but am I even using them to my advantage? (Uh, nope.) I know what I need to do, but I wasn’t doing it. So many voices of “do this”, “do that”, and “you have to do that, too” overwhelmed me. There was just too much to do! I couldn’t keep track. All the tedious effort got exhausting. I couldn't tap into the joys of life, the fun of dating, and the sense of wonder from learning and trying new things.
Lay everything all on the table—sift through what resonates with you, what things bring you joy and peace, and then set aside everything else. You have to trust what you know is best for YOU!
4 – Simplify and just get started again
I took my absence as feedback as well. Nothing is a wasted opportunity. I noticed patterns. I listened to the feedback. Building consistency is so much more important than all the nitty-gritty productional details that boggled me down.
Scrap it all and get back to the basics. Let it all go, and focus on the most important part—what makes you come alive.
Put a stop to the shoulds
So here I am, resetting myself again. Instead of getting caught up in the comparison syndrome, I weeded out all the shoulds and focused more on what I am called to do, what makes sense to me, and what feels right. Screws the shoulds. I choose to tune into the joys and fun — my desires!
Stop doing just to do, like a dog chasing its own tail. Start focusing more on who you want to be instead. Doing from a state of mind of being is very different than doing from just doing. It took time to adjust to a different frame of mind, especially when you have old habits and thought patterns coming up. You are fully capable of addressing and resolving them as they come up.
My path and my choices are mine
I had to not care about what others thought. I had to be ok with things looking different than how everyone else is doing it. Just because it looks different doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad. Only you can decide that for yourself. Sure, there’s a status quo, but do you want to just be another cog in the machine or data in the dataset?
If you want to stand out, you will be doing things differently than others. Following the herd and latest trends won't get you there. You have to be radically honest with yourself with compassion and acceptance to show up authentically you.
You are your own individual. Shed the shoulds. Embrace your own wants. Be who you’re meant to be, not just a carbon copy of everyone else.
P.S. There's more to this …if you're interested. Click here to read about my personal behind-the-scenes story that led to this post.
Psst, the featured photo is by Darius Bashar via unsplash