Do you feel the pull of should?
As in, “It’s Tuesday morning and there are soooo many days until I get to sleep in and I don’t want to get out of bed. But I should.”
At risk of sounding like Dr. Seuss, in some ways should is good. Should makes us think about things like hygiene before we leave the house. Should makes us comb our hair or brush our teeth or shower. As a kid you only have a general sense that you should do these things,. Then, hopefully, it becomes habit.
Should doesn’t stop there though. Should drives further, drives deeper. And, like a tetanus shot, it hurts more than we expect.
Should tells us that we have to have this kind of car or that kind of house to be a success without asking if we really want those things. Should is very good at masquerading as a thing we think we want so we pursue the should without every really examining our motivations and asking ‘is this making me happy?’
And maybe those things do make you happy. Maybe it was your life’s ambition to own that car or live in a big house. And that’s okay. If you worked all your life to get where you’re at, that’s awesome. Congratulations on not quitting. Be cautioned though . . . after a while should is going to tell you what you have isn’t good enough.
Should is going to tell you you’re not enough. And when we hear the voice of should we seek something to fill the void.
True void-filling is scary. It requires hard and uncomfortable self analysis. It’s easier to buy the next car, or the house, or . . . whatever . . . hoping it will be an adequate substitute. It isn’t, but hey, lookit! It’s shiny and new and we get that quick hit of feel-good hormones so maybe should can just shut the fuck up, now, yeah? And it does. For a little while.
Should is about not being okay with who you are. It isn’t easy to examine how we feel about ourselves and the choices we’ve made. How we feel about ourselves is messy and that internal monologue can get pretty damn mean. Should tells us that we aren’t good enough, aren’t accomplished enough, aren’t something enough to be happy with ourselves.
I’m guilty of should. Maybe more so than you. After surviving cancer I felt like I was given a second chance. So all those things I didn’t do before cancer because of *insert random excuse here* I thought I should now want extra bad after cancer.
You know, bucket lists and all that stuff.
In some ways, should worked out. I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team, because no one else stepped up and I thought I should. I didn’t know a damn thing about soccer (although I sure learned fast). Before cancer, I would have been too afraid of not being good enough to do that.
But should cuts the other way, too.
Before cancer I wanted to be an very specific type of engineer. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. After cancer, and after going back to work, I was still fascinated with what these engineers did, but I liked my program level job, too.
Should told me liking my job wasn’t good enough. Should told me that I needed to be that kind of engineer to be happy because it was something I wanted before cancer. So I tried on a new hat. I discounted and shoved aside the natural talent and joy I found at my current position and forced myself into a tiny, ill-fitting box. I was frustrated and overwhelmed and couldn’t understand why.
It took Justin pointing my should out for me to see. He said, “Yes, you can do this. But you need to stop and think if you should.” And only then did I realize cancer had whispered should in my ear.
Should says it’s not okay to let dreams change, to evolve, to simplify. Should says happiness is not enough. Should was wrong.
Should also makes the world hold cancer survivors up like heroes. A real life example: Lance Armstrong. His fall from grace was extra bad because he survived cancer.
Lance Armstrong started out as a deeply competitive cyclist. He wanted to win . . . well, everything. When he found out he had cancer, he tackled it exactly how he tackled the bike: like a competition. When he survived, despite very long odds, people expected him to live and act like a saint. They shoulded all over him. And I’m all too aware that should was screaming in his ear that he become a better athlete, a stronger athlete, the best athlete all because he was given a second chance at life. Between the world’s shoulding and his own, Lance Armstrong was driven to do what he did to make that happen.
I’m not saying what he did was right. I’m saying is the voice of should is very, very loud after a life threatening illness.
Cancer doesn’t make you a hero. It might give you some insights but it doesn’t fundamentally change who you are. If anything cancer is very good at stripping away who you aren’t. Cancer didn’t turn either Lance Armstrong or me into a saint. It proved we’re human. And we make human mistakes.
Like listen to the voice of should.
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