Friday, December 31, 2010

The Tyranny of "Should"

I should buy something since I used their bathroom.
I should attend that event, even though I don't feel like it.
I should spend more on his Christmas gift.
I should wake up at 5am so I can pray/exercise/get to work early.
I should wear sunscreen and floss daily.

Sometimes "should" is rooted in etiquette or social convention. Sometimes it's about health and safety. Sometimes it comes from others' expectations placed on you (rightly or wrongly). And sometimes it is your own expectations for yourself (again, rightly or wrongly).

Sometimes I feel bombarded and burdened by "shoulds." Whenever I say or think the word, it's like a weight coming down over my shoulders. And it makes sense that the word just plain feels bad. When we say we should do something, rather than "I want to" or "I get to," it basically means "I don't really want to," and we are burdened with the pressure of unwanted obligations. In the past tense--"I should have..."--it means guilt, and we are burdened with regret.

I want to escape from the tyranny of "should." This means not agreeing to things I don't really want to do. This means letting go of self-imposed pressures. This means deciding if other-imposed obligations or expectations are valid and important to me, or not.

My new year's resolution this year is not to blog if I don't feel like it. I love having this blog to share funny stories, memories, thoughts, etc., and interacting with the wider community of bloggers and readers. But a certain schedule or weekly quota for my blogging is a self-imposed pressure that I am choosing to free myself from.

Blogger and literary agent Rachelle Gardner had a great post the other day about new year's resolutions and how we all make them and break them, and she's gotten to the point of not even caring about it. She realized that our resolutions are really less about things we want to do (or should do) and more about what we want to be. To use her example, when we say "I want to lose ten pounds this year," what we are really saying is "I want to feel better about myself" or "I want to look good to other people." So why not focus more on the root desire in the first place? You might find that there are many things you can do to embody that desire, and that it doesn't come down to one action that you can cross off a list or mark "pass" or "fail" next Dec. 31.

Last year, my resolution was to read the Bible more. Since "more" is a very loose criterion, I guess it could be said that I succeeded technically, but not really. The root desire behind that resolution was to be more authentic and personal in my faith. I work in Christian publishing, I go to church weekly, and my beliefs and values are often at the forefront of my mind and conversation in our home. But to be honest, I haven't invested a lot of time over the past few years in quiet, personal, deep devotion--and I miss that, because whenever I do, I really do feel closer to God and strengthened as a disciple. I might be more successful in that desire if I focus on the value of faith and discipleship, rather than on the "should" of "I should read the Bible more."

Rachelle suggested asking yourself, "How do I want to feel?" and thinking in terms of adjectives, rather than verbs or nouns. I want to feel calm and unburdened, not filling up my time and draining my mental/emotional tank with things I don't really care about. I want to focus on what really matters to me. This will probably (hopefully) involve blogging, scrapbooking, picture-taking, Bible-reading, volunteering, giving, etc. But because I want to. Not because I should.

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