Do you suffer from occasional—or constant—attacks of “the shoulds”?
You know what I mean. From the time I get up in the morning (“I really should do some kind of exercise…I should empty the cats’ litter pan now…I should floss and not just brush…”) to the time I lie down at night (“I should have washed those dishes instead of leaving them in the sink…I shouldn’t have stayed up so late watching TV…Damn, I really should have emptied that litter pan!”) I’m plagued by guilt over a million rules I carry around in my head. And that’s not even counting work hours! (“I should get this article done before I get busy with other stuff…But I really should call this contact now before he goes out to lunch…Or should I do that job my boss asked me for 20 minutes ago??”)
I know my list of “shoulds” has gotten longer over the past couple of decades, and I suspect other Baby Boomers have noticed the same phenomenon. For some, dealing with children, grandchildren and aging parents has added more responsibilities, all equally important. I don’t happen to have those issues, but ironically having a lifelong dream come true a few years back greatly expanded my list. In 2003, I got my first novel published, and five more have followed. But now, in addition to wanting to actually write more books, I feel obliged to promote and promote and promote the ones I’ve already got out (while still working around a full-time job). I should take advantage of this chance to do a guest blog or an online interview or go to that conference or give this talk or get on that panel…etc., etc. If I don’t, I feel as if I’m shortchanging a key area of my life—my “true” calling.
One of the reasons I’m writing this blog, in fact, is because it’s been so long since I made an entry that I kept nagging myself, “You should do another blog…” (Don’t get me started, though, on tweeting. With so little spare time, I have to draw the line somewhere!)
There are two other big reasons why I think many of us have developed overactive consciences lately—the environment and the recession. I’m struggling more financially than I was 15 years ago, so I feel guilty any time I spend on something that’s nonessential and, God forbid, just for “fun.” I often used to buy a magazine off the stands just because a headline or photo caught my eye, but now I subscribe to very few (at a discount) that mostly relate to my job. I go to a movie once every few months, and only when it’s something I really want to see. Even so, I hear a constant chorus in my head of “I should save more, I shouldn’t put anything else on a credit card, I should fix things instead of replacing them…make it do, wear it out…”
Not all of this is bad, of course, because frugality does go hand-in-hand with the other big paradigm of the twenty-first century, conservation. And I do take that seriously–I just started recycling my cardboard toilet-paper rolls! I save my fruit and vegetable peelings to compost, turn off the tap while brushing my teeth. But it all adds to that chorus of “shoulds,” doesn’t it? When I’m exhausted, in a hurry or just having a bad day, and that chick in my head starts nagging, “You should put that in recycling, you should shred those documents before you throw them out, you shouldn’t use that drain cleaner because it pollutes…” I want to slap her silly. (She sounds like that electronic b*tch at the supermarket self-checkout who scolds you every few seconds, “The bagging area is full…Please bag some items…”)
How about you? Do you find that trying to live up to all of these modern responsibilities drives you crazy at times? Some psychologists believe the very word “should” is bad for our mental health. Should we abolish it?
Please comment below–you know you should…