Releasing the "Shoulds" in Your Life
by Maggie Craddock

It’s vital to clarify the distinction between what others may have led you to believe that you “should” do with your career and what you authentically desire. Whenever we say to ourselves, “I should…” we are acting from a base emotion of fear. The trick to releasing the “shoulds” is that they have an energetic component as well as an intellectual component. You can make a list of the “shoulds” that you need to release, and you will be making this list over and over unless you deal with the feelings that keep them clinging to your psyche like Velcro.

An exercise that is helpful for releasing your “shoulds” involves taking your journal or a piece of paper and listing your “shoulds” as fast as you can. For example: I should make more money… I should have a better car ...I should lose weight so my favorite jeans fit…” Once you start running out of “shoulds,” it’s time to take a look at this list from a fresh perspective. Getting your “shoulds” out of your head and down on paper frees you mentally to tap into your inner creative resources. Take some time to review the “shoulds” you have listed. Many people are surprised by the volume of negative messages they have been bombarding themselves with when they see the length of their lists.

Your authentic self is your true voice, your real self. To discover your authentic self, review these “shoulds” and explain them to your authentic self as if you are having a private consultation. Your authentic self is a real friend, there to support and listen to you and also offer you insight on the roots of your fear. John works in a consulting firm. He found that this exercise helped him clarify his priorities during a period when his firm was in the process of massive downsizing. “My first strike at reworking the “shoulds” brought up a lot of financial concerns,” says John. “I had gone on for quite a while writing things like: “I should make more money...I should review my personal investments...I should find a corporate culture with more job security...Everyone I know is so financially panicked right now,” John says. “I almost can’t go to some of the networking groups in my industry because the people there are so negative. The mood in my company has changed dramatically as our firm has announced wave after wave of layoffs. I’ve never felt really appreciated by the senior managers in my department.

“My firm has new management across the board,” John says. “My boss, who is struggling with his own fears, was anxious about how we would explain the firm’s future strategy. When I suggested that we deal with the management changes head on in the annual report, he snapped at me. Later that day, we got a memo from senior management basically echoing my suggestion. Rather than acknowledging my contribution, my boss grabbed credit for the idea himself and has been giving me the cold shoulder ever since. As mad as I was, I don’t want to quit. I have two kids and an ex-wife to support, and it’s irresponsible if I do. At the same time, I had to figure out how to put this into perspective.”

“Listing my “shoulds” on paper was incredibly transforming. I wouldn’t have believed something so simple could be so powerful unless I had done it myself. Once I had released those “shoulds,” I was amazed by the powerful financial metaphor I came up with for creativity. As I described it to my authentic self, I discovered ‘ideas are like an individual asset and the ability to have them is like ongoing cash-flow.’ The more I thought about this, the more I realized that while it makes me mad when someone steals my ideas, it’s not the end of the world. What matters is the ability to keep generating great ideas in a changing environment. It’s that creative flow that being in touch with my authentic self can help me tap.”

The results of taking the time to do this simple exercise can shift your perspective in a powerful way. Getting the “shoulds” out of the way and considering your professional challenges from the perspective of your authentic self helps you avoid professional sabotage. The main thing that sabotages people’s professional choices can summarized by one simple word: fear. Remember, fear hides in your psyche by sneaking under a pile of “shoulds.”

Maggie Craddock is the author of The Authentic Career (2004; New World Library; www.newworldlibrary.com; 800-972-6657 ext. 52). She is also a New York City based executive and career coach. She speaks throughout the world on work place issues and has recently appeared before the Women on Wall Street Conference, the Deutsche Bank Leadership Skills Conference, the graduating classes of both Harvard and Columbia Business Schools, and the Financial Women’s Association. For more info, please visit: www.workplacerelationships.com.