don't do things because you should

Today we ask that you release the compulsion to do things because you “should.”

Don’t do things because you think you “should.”

When you do things half-heartedly, out of a sense of obligation or guilt, when you do things with fear as your primary motivation — you are acting from a place of “should.”

Many people live their whole lives this way.  They do everything because they believe they “should.”

If you want to be unhappy and frustrated, living from “should” is the most direct way to go about it.

The world is full of people who will tell you what you “should” do.  Parents, teachers, bosses, peers, religious officials, pundits, people on the internet and TV.  Everyone is going to tell you what you “should” do.

In general, when someone tells you what you “should” do, it is wise to take a good, long, clear look at that person.

Is this a happy, fulfilled person who is telling you what to do?  Is this person living in a way that you find inspiring?

Usually happy, fulfilled, inspiring people aren’t the kind of people who are going to lecture you on what you “should” do with your life.  Such people understand that all beings must be free to make their own choices.

Usually the loudest “should” voices come from people who are unfulfilled.  Usually it is the most miserable people who are going to give you advice about what you “should” be doing.

Please remember that life is precious, and briefer than you think.  Many times it takes a brush with life-threatening illness in order for people to drop their “shoulds.”

Why not take a look at your “shoulds” without the prompt of a major illness?

What are you doing in life from a place of “should”?

Most often the “shoulds” overlap with those parts of your life in which you experience the most unhappiness and conflict.

Many people stay in relationships because they believe they “should.”  But if you don’t love — or even like — the person you are with, how does that benefit anyone?  Your partner would potentially be much happier in a genuinely loving relationship, not stuck with someone who remains in the bond out of “should.”

Many people stay in jobs they do not like out of “should.”  Such people don’t really help anyone, for they are not effective workers.  A company full of employees who genuinely want to be working there is obviously a far more productive company than one full of half-hearted employees who go to work only because they “should.”

Often people object that if no one did things out of obligation and “should,” then society would break down.  No one would do anything.  Everyone would be lazy, and sit on the couch all day doing nothing.

But this is a lie.

The fantasy of “sitting on the couch doing nothing” goes hand in hand with living a life of “shoulds.”

People who actually want to be doing what they are doing are highly motivated.  While everyone needs downtime, people who want to be doing what they do have no problem getting off the couch.  They find their work fulfilling.

You see, living a life of “should” is like being a slave.

Slaves are people who, by definition, don’t want to be doing what they are doing.  But they are trapped.  Everything they do lacks motivation.  They want only to escape — to rest, to sleep, to drown their troubles in drink or drugs or entertainment.  All slaves have been like this since antiquity.  The slaves of Egypt and Rome were like this.

When you live life from a place of “should,” it does not matter if you drive a nice car or live in a nice house.  It does not matter if your children attend a nice school.  You are a slave, like all the slaves of human history.  There have been countless slaves who dwelled in gilded cages — this is so commonplace as to be a cliche.

Slaves in ancient Rome were allowed to cut loose once a year at the Saturnalia Festival, where they drank and debauched themselves like college students on “spring break.”  This yearly “vacation” from slavery made them more complacent slaves, as their masters well understood.

A modern slave is someone who dreads the alarm clock, who wearily slogs through his days, who constantly dreams of escape, who drowns his troubles in drink or substance abuse, who feels always frustrated and exhausted.  Who lives, always, from “should.”

People argue that if they didn’t live this way, their lives would fall apart.  Bills wouldn’t be paid.  They would wind up on the street.

Often this isn’t really true.

It is one thing to remain in an unsatisfying job because it is temporary, because it is a step on the path to something more fulfilling.

It is another to remain in an unsatisfying job — or series of jobs — until you retire, always complaining, but never taking action.

One person is free.  The other a slave.

In general, what keeps modern slaves enslaved is the fear of going against their culture, their tribe, their family, their society.  The human fear of becoming an outcast runs so deep that it is strong enough to keep countless people stuck in miserable lives.

Consider adolescents, who are so preoccupied with being socially accepted by their peers that they do all kinds of things they don’t really want to do.

Most people never outgrow that phase.  They are still in “high school” — still so preoccupied with social acceptance and status-seeking that they spend their whole lives doing things they don’t really want to do.

The mark of a true grown-up is that he does what he does from a place of true desire, true intention.  When he makes a compromise, it is with the understanding that what he does serves his greater purpose in the long run.

There are very few true adults in this world.

So look at your life.  See if what you do comes from a place of “should.”  Notice the places in which you feel trapped and enslaved.  Are you taking action to liberate yourself, or are you complacent and complaining?

Are you free?  Or are you a slave?

Do not listen to people who tell you what you “should” do.   A loving parent instructs a teenaged son or daughter not to cave into peer pressure and do things he doesn’t want to do because he thinks he “should.”  Yet how many adults are capable of this?

Follow your heart.  Follow your soul.  That way lies freedom.