Sinister Shoulds

Hi friends! Sorry it’s been awhile – you know how it is. Everybody’s busy. I’m in the midst of triathlon training and have a handful of work and personal projects in the hopper. It’s all terribly interesting to me, but I’m afraid doesn’t make for any good blog posts. That said, I had a handful of mildly revelatory experiences in the past few weeks, so I am back on the (over) share train.

Should. It’s a complicated concept. On one hand, there are some shoulds that are really good for us. You should brush your teeth regularly. We should treat one another with respect. I should stop biting my cuticles. I can get behind the value of should, but I also think it can be enormously problematic. I had three “aha” moments recently that helped me articulate just how fraught should can be.

When you feel weird about it

Walking out of O’Hare Airport last week (trying to navigate the Lyft app with poor service), a man approached me as I headed for the taxi stand.

Him: Do you want to take an Uber-like service downtown?
Me: (Distractedly looks up from phone) Yea, sure.
Him: We’re just this way. (Leads the way.) You can pay with a credit card, here’s the app (shows me the app), our staging section is just across the way here.

At this point, this guy is leading me across all the pick up lanes to a staging section in the parking garage. It’s not dead over there, but it’s also not as bustling as the pick up lanes just outside the airport. The app looked totally legit, this guy wasn’t being pushy at all, and there were people loading suitcases into a car where he was pointing. I stopped dead in my tracks.

Me: You know what, I’m actually going to get a cab.
Him: Ok, sure. You’ll pay more, but I could tell you were hesitating when you stopped. The taxi stand is right over there.
Me: Thanks, sorry.
Him: Nah, don’t worry about it (bustles off to find another ride).

That moment – between when I stopped and when I opened my mouth – I was wrestling with should. My brain ran circles. “I should just go. I said I wanted to take a ride share. I use ride share apps all the time. I’m sure there’s nothing shady going on here. It’ll be rude if I don’t just go at this point. We’ve walked a full 50 yards. I should just go.” But, my gut told me “no.” Just a plain, simple, straightforward, “no.” So I marched back to the taxi stand and paid $54 for a cab (well, work paid, but still).

There’s a 99.9% chance that going with ride share guy would have been absolutely fine. The ride would have been cheaper, the car probably would have smelled better, and I may have gotten to my destination in better time. But for me, a .1% doubt around a should wasn’t worth it.

Takeaway: If you’re feeling weird about it,  f*ck should. Leave the party, ditch the date, call yourself a cab, or make a scene. Don’t play nice and go along with something because you think you should. It may cause you some hassle, but it also might save you from a bad experience (or worse). (Side note – if you don’t go with your gut and something bad happens, that is not your fault! Anyone who says otherwise is reverse-should-ing. That’s victim blaming and it’s BS.)

When it’s not healthy

For years, I adopted an “asset oriented” approach to healthy eating. Instead of depriving myself of things, I would prioritize eating good things. If I wanted a big piece of chocolate cake, I’d say, “Ok. You can have that chocolate cake if you first eat a salad full of greens for dinner.”  Instead of cutting carbs out of my diet, I’d commit to eating 5-6 servings of vegetables every day. On the whole, this worked for me. I don’t feel deprived, I eat a pretty balanced diet, and I get to eat cake. #winning

I thought I had a healthy-mindset around healthy eating figured out and dialed in. I am free from dieting! I am free from the toxic culture that makes women feel they should deprive themselves! But, if that’s the case, why do I still feel bad when I don’t make the “healthy” choice? Why do I still cringe when I see myself in the mirror post-pizza? Why do I still see Olivia Palermo and wistfully wonder what she eats (or doesn’t) to look that willowy?

I’d been wrestling with these questions for some time now, never approaching a resolution. Until I listened to this podcast on Food Psych about how to break free from body shame.

Holy. shit. All my mindset had done was take the same cultural construct of what I should eat and how my body should look and packaged it up into a friendlier looking package. Effing should!

This one was is hard for me, but I’ve stopped should-ing my eating habits. I eat what I want, when I want to eat it. If I want a bag of chips – I eat a bag of chips. If I want a bowl of kale, I eat a bowl of kale. As it turns out, my body is pretty good at fueling itself. More often than not, I’m craving greens or fish; but when I do want something fatty or sweet, I just eat it. No weird substitutions or bargaining, I just eat. In a month of re-framing my thinking, my weight hasn’t changed. My training hasn’t suffered. My eating habits are pretty consistent with what they were before. The only change is that I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel like I should be eating something else or not eating at all. For all of you rolling your eyes and saying “Duh Aubrie, it’s called intuitive eating. Get with the program already.” I’m sorry it took me so long to GET it! I’m here, I’m on board and I am SO done with eating what I should eat.

When it’s getting in the way of your own happiness

I had a lovely conversation with a young woman last week about changing careers. She’s a successful young professional. In a single meeting, I could discern that she’s smart, self aware, has incredible insight for someone so young, and is a delight to be around. She had a clear sense of what she wanted to get out of a career, and yet, something was holding her back. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until she said,

“You know, I have a lot of friends who knew exactly what they wanted to do and now they’re doing it. They studied journalism and now they’re doing that, or they always wanted to work in the arts and there they are. I just never had that pull towards any one thing, but I feel like I should…or that at least I should stick with the direction I’m already going.”

Man, have I been there! Honestly, I think if we took a poll right now, the majority of us have felt some variation of her concern at some point. My personal should crisis hit a few years ago. I’d been working for a Broadway theatre for two years – a dream come true – but it had started to feel stale. There were things about my career that I really loved, and things about it that were starting to chafe. I wanted a change. But what would people think? I had not one, but TWO arts degrees. Yes, I’d be using the skills I learned in another sector, but would everyone think I had given up? I really should stay in the theatre community, right?

I took a leap of faith and took a job with a company that made me giddy with excitement. That job – that I still get excited about – gave me the opportunity to build my own department, stretch my leadership ability, and bring the skills I learned in arts management to bear for an incredibly worthwhile cause. I enjoy going to work everyday, and I’ve grown as a professional in ways that wouldn’t be possible if I’d stayed where I was. I think it’s important to note that I ran towards something that I was passionate about, not away from something; but I almost let should hold me back. I don’t believe I’d be as fulfilled by my life if I’d let that happen.

In short, don’t let should put you in a bad situation, keep you in a bad place, or keep you from seeking more from your life. Obviously there are some shoulds that are important to the social contract and all that, but don’t let it run your whole world. Most of the time, when should and your instincts are at odds, you should go with your gut :)~

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I'm Aubrie - nonprofit professional / triathlete / adventurer / blogger / seeker of collaborative opportunities for good. Irreverent with good intentions.

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