We live our lives surrounded by a chorus of shoulds.
They accumulate gradually, as we try to improve. We read the best practices, success stories and guides. We listen to industry experts and accept friendly tips—and most of them come loaded with new things we should be doing.
For example, if you’re trying to be a writer, you’ll find plenty of advice about what other authors have done, how to write, how to publish, how to be successful.
If you want to be a writer, you should…
Here’s how I wrote my book or experienced success, you should do the same.
Alas, these promises are like Trojan horses. You dutifully drag them into the walls of your life and take them on. But wrapped inside each nugget of advice is a small army of assumptions, obligations, and practices that can quickly take over your life.
One action leads to another, to another. Pretty soon you are spending most of your time on tasks dictated by other people’s objectives or experiences rather than your own values. Your life fills with things that you don’t really want to be doing.
I have wandered down many false trails following sign-posts marked “Should.”
It’s taken me several years in my author career to have the confidence to sort through and set aside well-meaning advice that doesn’t fit my objectives.
Examine the gifts of advice carefully
Before you accept advice, take a careful look at what’s inside it. Is it based on unspoken assumptions, and if so, what are they? Does the advice-giver’s life match the one you want to lead?
If you simply follow best practices, you’ll look and sound like everyone else. If that’s not your goal, think twice.
Be clear on your goals and values—and boundaries. Don’t accept gifts of advice blindly—even from me! Examine recommendations, accept the ones that fit, and leave the rest safely outside the walls. They’ll be there later if you need them.
Clearing out the invading army
If you already feel derailed, examine how you’re spending your time and notice all of the tasks you think should be doing.
The word should is a red flag. Every time you find yourself saying or thinking it, dig deeper: Who says I should? Why?
Do you spend all of your time racing between social media accounts, because people say you should be there as an author? What if that leaves you no time to write?
You may be spending time on apparent obligations that have slipped into your life cushioned in sound advice. They may not match your objectives or values.
Show those unintentional obligations to the exit before they overrun your life.
When you defend the borders of your life from unwelcome intruders, you’ll make room to experience the genuine gift of a purposeful life. You’ll hear other possibilities and ideas knocking at the door—things that were overwhelmed or drowned out by the chorus of shoulds.
Here’s my challenge—look through the things on your “to do” list that are weighing you down. Re-examine those tasks. Are they taking you where you want to go? Are they genuine obligations, or simply someone else’s standards? Do they get in the way of more meaningful work?
Find at least one, and show it the door.
Then get back to your writing.