We were raised in a society of "shoulds" — of preconceived standards and neatly drawn boundary lines.
At first they start off well-intentioned enough — you should brush your teeth, you should look both ways before you cross the street, you should be nice. But then somewhere along the way we blur the shoulds into our identities and use them to compare where we are — who we are — with where and who we should be.
We do it as women.
We do it as adults.
We do it as parents.
And as Millennials who've grown up with things like media "experts", reality TV, and comment sections imputing their own standards and criticisms, it's hard to disconnect from the noisy stream of distractions. Of someone, somewhere, telling you that you're doing it all wrong.
(Life! You're doing it wrong!)
I know how impossibly easy it is to let the shoulds echo in our minds and puppeteer our actions, but do me a favor. Just one favor? Next time you get caught up in a "should", please just stop and think:
You should be engaged for X amount of years before getting married, and then have X amount of kids. (Says who?)
You should go to college if you want to be a (statistically counted) educated person. (Says who?)
You should travel and sow your wild oats in your 20s. (Says who?)
You should have a company-ready house and be ready to whip-up appetizers at a moment's notice. (Says who?)
You should marry the nice guy, you should take the safe office job, you should have your ducks in a row — always in a row. (SAYS WHO?)
And even though the over-exposure to information can certainly amplify the comparisons and I-should-be-doing-X way of thinking (looking at you, Pinterest), it might be the thing that saves us all. Because when we can read and share stories — our stories, each other's stories — we can easily see other paths hiding around corners and under the overgrown brush. We finally see that we're all chopping away vines and making U-turns and running into dead ends because the idea of one path from point A to point B is one of the most well-executed lies we've been told.
Screw the shoulds, you guys.
Shoulds are for mediocre, watered-down, conventional lives. Shoulds are for fitting into boxes, even when the walls seem to be closing in. Shoulds are for unrealistic expectations and playing pretend.
This is real life. Your life. And no one else knows how you should be living it.
Photo: Picnik Photography (that's actually my sister in China!).