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“Should” versus “Want To”

Doing the things that “should” get done at the expense of the fun is a drag.  But you won’t get very far in life if you just do the fun stuff either.  Where is the sweet spot on this continuum between “gotta” and “wanna?”  More to the point, how do I get back to it when I am once again off in my “favorite” part of this particular patch of weeds?

I am very good at “gotta.”  For much of my life the word “should” has been the organizing principle of my entire existence.  A lot of those “shoulds” were unavoidable.  You should show up for work when you’re expected to.  You should feed your kids nutritious meals.  You should go to the dentist regularly.

But there are a lot of shoulds that I just let be important when they really weren’t.  I made myself crazy–and still do–trying to do a bunch of stuff that nobody cares about, including me.  I just do it because I said I would. Who said you really need to do everything you said you would? Is there more wiggle room on that than I am giving myself?

I really wish I could find a permanent innoculation against this proliferation of “because I said I would.” I waste so much of what could be lovely time focusing on those “shoulds” instead of what’s really important.  The beautiful first moments of a winter dawn go unnoticed if I’m stewing about a report that no one will read while I drive to work.  I’m not included in the joy of the kids in the park when I’m rushing to run an errand near-by and don’t even hear them having fun.  I miss so many real, easy, everyday miracles for the sake of “should.”

While writing this, I’ve finally realized that “should” is not the opposite of “should not.”  Should is the opposite of “want to.”  Do I really want to do this “should?”  Do I really need to spend my time doing that rather than something that brings me more joy or helps someone I care about or makes a bigger difference to the world than this “should” I’m so focused on?

These are not just the archaic June Cleaver “shoulds” of the last century.  At the moment, my “shoulds” are mostly electronic.  I “should” do a blog post.  I should figure out how to get the photo files set up on the new computer.  I should do another backup. I should check sales numbers. I should get my business on Twitter. On Facebook. On whatever they dream up next as a social networking option.

The list is endless.  What I need to teach myself is that it’s also pointless.  Shoulds should not automatically and immediately be done.  Once something feels like a “should” it’s a warning signal.  Something in your life has changed priority and you need to see what’s behind that.  Feeling like you “should” instead of like you want to do the thing that you’re spending your time, focus, and energy on is a red flag.

What’s behind that lack of interest, that sense of duty in lieu of excitement about the task? If my heart isn’t in it, there’s a reason. Finding that reason is the only real purpose of a “should.”

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