Living Shoulds

Living Shoulds

Since this website is dedicated to Living If, we should consider the opposite: Living “Should”.  These are the things you have been told, or believe you should do.  Generally shoulds come into being in two ways: someone trying to sell you something; or, other people projecting what they believe happiness is.  Happiness needs to be owned by the individual, by you, not what others want of you.

We confront our shoulds every day.   It may be that guilty feeling when you “should” be working instead of reading this.  It may be why you are living the life that you are today, because, whether consciously or not, we act on what we believe we should do.  Shoulds are not always articulated, or even real, often we put these into our own lives.  I believe much of the drive we have to do what we “should” do is to gain approval from others and prove ourselves.  We all need to shake the “should” and make active life choices.

The “American Dream” is our shared cultural “should”.  You should go to college, get a job, marry someone of the opposite sex, buy a house, have kids, buy a bigger house, but a vacation property, etc.  We are surrounded by preachers of “shoulds” that are based on past ways of doing things or opinions of morality.  I am pretty sure we all know some people that have chosen lifestyles we would not choose ourselves, people that could make more money, but don’t, and we judge.  This is us imposing our “shoulds” on others.

The difference between living if and living should is choice.  Living if is choosing to live in a way that if you died today you would be at peace with your life, knowing that both the good and bad of your life was due to your choices.  You dwell on your mistakes or have to think “what if”.  The reality is that whether you choose to live your ifs or shoulds, is that there will always be alternative “ifs”.

The most important aspect of living your if is that the life you lead is of your choosing, not how others would want you to live.  The life you choose is your best bet of what will bring you happiness and what you could lay on your deathbed and say, “that was a life well lived”.  Decisions to chase your dreams, follow your heart, or search out the person you want to be in no way assures you success at your goals, but it does allow you to always know you stepped up to the plate.  (see My Path to Living If)

I don’t want to imply that “shoulds” are categorically bad.  I believe that you “should” not harm others, that you “should” be concerned about your legacy, and that you “should” get as much education as possible.  That said, the vast majority of lifestyle “shoulds” are pretty detrimental to living a life of choice.  I believe the biggest hindrance to living your ifs is failure to making the choice to live consciously; the failure to choose your adventure, versus taking the road laid out before you.

Living your ifs is fundamentally difficult.  It is risky.  This isn’t for everyone, and depending on your situation you may not be able to unwind certain positions in your life.  For example, if you have children at home that you care for, I cannot recommend ditching them to chase your dream of being a ballerina.  Also, if you are 40, your time to become a professional athlete is probably over.  Then again, who am I to stop you from chasing your dreams?

What living your ifs is about is finding happiness, whatever that may be.  Don’t let me or anyone else define happiness for you.  The cultural “shoulds” that surround us aren’t about your individual happiness and success.

Transitioning from living “should” to “if” is probably a lifetime pursuit, if you choose to do this you need to commit yourself to saying “yes”, to losing the self you are, to having ups and downs.  You will be rewarded with the best and worst days of your life.  You will gain ownership over your decisions, but must also own the results.  Neither success nor failure is certain, the only certainty is knowing the life you live is one of your choosing.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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