The Tyranny of Should: Chore vs. Choice
This morning as I reflected on the day ahead of me, I had an epiphany. I realized there is one word that has a way of sucking all the joy out of everything I do. And that word is SHOULD.
Let me explain. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been blessed with a number of ideas that landed gently at the edge of my awareness. They were accompanied by an electricity that made them glimmer and pique my curiosity. Some of those ideas were for articles, some for videos, and others for potential projects and other endeavors.
I couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement as I pondered them. The feeling reminded me of dreams I had as a kid where I would find myself amidst piles of treasures, golden and shimmering. In those dreams, I often knew I would be waking soon and tried to scoop into my arms and shove into my pockets as much of those riches as I could, in an attempt to bring them back into my waking reality. Of course, I always awoke in my pajamas with no sign of the fortunes I was previously enjoying.
As an adult, I realize that we sometimes get glimpses of treasure in our waking hours too. These treasures are in the form of ideas that beckon to us. They get our hearts pumping and send a charge through our bodies. And if we don’t act on them, even in some small way, they evaporate into nothingness, just as the remnants of the dreams I had as a kid did upon waking.
So, I’ve learned to write these ideas down when I get them. And I know the importance of continuing to take action on them. Here’s the thing I discovered this morning:
That flame that was sparked when those ideas hit, and slowly stoked as I pondered and moved into them — that fire that was crackling with intensity and even beginning to blaze — was almost completely doused when I introduced the word “SHOULD” into its presence.
As soon as I felt the weight that came from believing I should write those articles, I no longer really wanted to. They were right up there with cleaning out my garage. When I’m shouldering the burden of should, all my procrastination mechanisms kick in. I’ll check my email, venture over to Twitter or Facebook, read some silly thing that has absolutely no value to me. And then I’ll really feel awful.
Just say the word “should” and feel your energy drop. “I should go to work today. I should eat healthier food. I should get moving on that project. I should return those calls. ” Even the things you want to do become tainted and heavy when the word “should” is involved.
I think the reason SHOULD kills our joy is that it turns what is really a CHOICE into a CHORE.
When something is a chore, you just want to get it over with. You’re checking the box and never really get into it. Maybe you’re thinking about all the things you’d rather be doing or how much you resent the fact that you “have to” do what you are doing in the moment. “Should” causes us to withhold that which gives us and everyone around us life. And that is really unfortunate for everyone involved.
Because if what you do touches the lives of other people (and pretty much everything we do does), they are cheated of having the full experience of you in the work. They get a mere shell of what would otherwise be filled with substance. And you miss out on the joy that comes with making the choice to fully participate in something that could very well transform you just by having done it.
What is it that you feel you should do today? Maybe it’s something you don’t think you really have a choice in, like showing up for work or paying your bills. OK. Let’s say you don’t really love your job right now. The more you tell yourself it’s something you have to do — the more you allow your should to make it a chore — the less of you you’ll bring to it, the more you will focus on all the things that bring you down, the less remarkable your work will be, the more out of touch you will be with what makes you happy, and the less likely you will be to position yourself for work that does bring you joy.
But let’s say instead of making it a chore, you make it a choice. You decide that whatever this day brings, you will find something to be happy about, something to be present for, something to light you up. Maybe it’s just giving someone a smile, or taking that extra minute to do something you’d like someone to do for you, or being grateful that you have a job. Maybe you take that onerous task you’ve been dreading and make a game of it. Try it and see what happens.
When you bring joy into your work, you’ll increasingly find that you have work that brings you joy. You’ll see things from new perspectives and make different connections and different choices. You’ll find ways to infuse more of what enriches you and those around you into whatever it is that you do.
As soon as I realized what my “should” was doing to that glimmering treasure trove of ideas, I took myself back to the delight I felt when I first pondered them — the energy that was in the air, the childlike wonder and curiosity. And I remembered how much I really want to do all those things. The chore went away and I reclaimed my choice. The heaviness dissipated and I began to feel free and inspired again. I sat at my computer and began to write the very article you are reading now, enjoying and savoring each moment of the experience.
And I made a pact with myself to be more aware of my “shoulds”. Because any chore can be transformed into choice when you trade the “should” for “want to”. And when you make the choice to bring who you really are into whatever it is you are doing, EVERYONE will benefit.
Join me, won’t you?