InPersonal, Self-care

Saying Goodbye to Other People’s “Shoulds”

I’ve never been one to fit precisely into the molds that have been made for me by people who don’t even know me personally. Or even by the people who do. But it’s safe to say that I’ve always tried to. Something in me wants to fit in and never disappoint. But another part of me wants to do what’s uniquely right for me and go my own way. It’s like a constant tug-of-war and sometimes I wish it was easier for my brain to just… ya know, cooperate.

I’m jealous of the people who don’t question or overthink or stop to think, “Wait, is this really right for me or am I just going along with what I’ve been taught?” That would make my life about 1,3,329 times easier. But instead, like many others, I’ve been “cursed” with a skeptical, doubting, overthinking, guilt-prone, people-pleasing brain that is anything but “simple.”

Me Story of Me and the Many “Shoulds”

The shoulds in my life eat me alive. And there are so many of them. In fact, I recently recited off my long list of shoulds to a therapist.

I should be finishing college right now.

I should have a “real” career and not spend my days doing something I love (and that I earn the same amount of money from) (aka: blogging).

I should believe and want everything I’ve been taught to believe and want.

I should be more outgoing and spend less time alone.

I should say “yes” whenever I’m asked to do something because declining is rude.

I should only stick to writing about things on my blog that those closest to me will agree with- things that aren’t going to ruffle their feathers.

I should be wanting to start a family soon. (Or at least doing it, even if I don’t want to. Otherwise, I’m “selfish.”)

I should post more pictures of myself on Instagram because that’s what bloggers do.

She stopped me when I wasn’t even halfway through with the long list of should’s swimming around in my brain and said, “Wait, who’s saying you should do these things?”

I replied, “Well, my family, society, the community I grew up in, the people all around me, other bloggers, friends… ”

She stopped me again and said, “But what do YOU want?”

(I’m sorry but I couldn’t NOT include that scene 😅)

What Do I Want?

I’d actually never been asked that. Even though my mom definitely taught me that I shouldn’t be a people-pleaser, I’d still gotten the impression from everyone around me that I should spend my life putting others first, doing what I’d been taught to do my whole life, and always asking God what I should do, instead of deciding what I wanted to do. I’d honestly never really stopped to think about what I wanted. Or even figured out how to make my own decisions.

So, I replied with something along the lines of, “Well, that doesn’t matter. It’s selfish to think about what I want when there are so many people counting on me to do their version of the right thing.”

I think she knew right about then (actually, most likely when I was naming off my “shoulds”) that there was A LOT we were going to have to work through. The unhealthy thought processes that had been instilled in me my entire life needed to be unpacked and redirected. I had to realize that I’ve been given a brain in order to use it. I’m allowed to decide what I want in this life based on my own unique personality traits, desires, and visions for the future. All of which are things only I can know and understand for myself- after a whole lot of necessary self-reflection.

I realized something important. It’s easier (at first) to go along with what everyone else is doing or what I’m told to do. It doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking, but in the end, it had cost me my peace, self-respect, and sanity.

Illustration by @bymariandrew

I also realized that the people who have been trying to force me into these boxes are limiting me, and I’ve been allowing it to happen. I’ve been allowing other people to dictate what I think, believe, want, and do, instead of pausing to consider, “Hey, what do I really think and what do I really want?

My people-pleasing way of thinking had led to years of guilt, lack of confidence in my own abilities, and a whole lot of self-hatred for not being true to myself.

My self-identity had been established by other people and when I didn’t live up to that identity, I felt like a failure. Just one example is of when I stopped to even consider that perhaps I shouldn’t finish college (because what I want to do doesn’t even require a college diploma) thoughts from other people entered my brain telling me that people who don’t graduate are dumb quitters who aren’t going to get anywhere in life.

When in reality, that isn’t the case (or you wouldn’t be staring at your iPhone right now #stevejobs).  Ultimately, I’d let other people’s expectations of what I should do make it almost impossible for me to consider what’s best for me- the unique individual that I am.

I find it odd that we highly regard people who go against the grain and think for themselves (like Katniss from Hunger Games or any other main character in a dystopian novel/movie), yet when someone actually does it in real life, we shame them. We make them feel like they’re a terrible person for deciding to do something different than the “status quo.”

We’re Too Complex to Be Put Into Boxes

The true beauty of being human is that we are too complex and dynamic to be put into boxes or told what to do based on our gender or anything else. For example, I know plenty of men who are far more nurturing and patient than their wives. Their children would probably be much better off staying home with their more nurturing dad or going to daycare than being yelled at all day by their mom.

Yet, because women are often put into boxes and told it’s their divine role or responsibility to stay at home with the kids, some kids are actually at odds. It’s funny how often we’re told what we should be or do based off of one part of ourselves, when we’re so much more dynamic and complicated than that.

When we don’t think for ourselves, we let all sorts of beliefs limit us and mold us into people we’re not always meant to be. When we let other people define our identity, we miss out on finding out who we truly are- which takes a lot of hard work and isn’t as simple as following along with the crowd, but in the end is so worth it.

Imagine if someone had told Mother Theresa that she should be a stay-at-home mom (or even just mom, in general) instead of starting organizations that help the poor and needy. If she’d listened to them, she wouldn’t have been able to discover her true calling in life or make the large and important impact she’s made.

Imagine if someone had told Malala Yousafzai that she couldn’t get an education because she’s a girl. Oh wait, people did tell her that (and shot her when she didn’t conform). But she didn’t listen. And now she’s played an important role in helping woman in third-world countries gain an education.

There’s no one way to be a good human, and thank goodness for that. Or we’d all be the same. And it would be boring. And people wouldn’t be helping others in the countless different ways we need people to be helping. My point is that there are a million and one different ways to live this crazy life and not one of them should be determined by someone else.

Illustration by @sirinthada

We Can’t Control Other People

Unfortunately, you can’t stop other people from adding to your list of shoulds or trying to make you conform to their standards. It’s in our nature to try to change people and shape them into the versions of themselves we think they should be.

Even though those unhealthy expectations always lead to resentment (and somehow people don’t realize this!), people aren’t going to stop expecting you to be a certain way and then shaming you when you don’t live up to their expectations. Sadly, most people aren’t taught how to have true empathy or understanding. They’re just taught that people should be a certain way and if they aren’t that way, they need to change.

So, it’s incredibly important to remember that it’s NOT selfish to want something different. It’s NOT selfish to believe something different. But it IS selfish to expect others to think and behave exactly the way you think and behave.

So from one people-pleaser to another (I’m assuming you’re a people pleaser if you got this far in the post), I hope you have the courage to say goodbye to other people’s “shoulds” for you. I’m not a therapist (I realized I’m too opinionated and introverted to be happy doing that), but I do know you’re worthy and smart and capable of deciding who YOU want to become.

If you’ve been taught who you should be your entire life, you’ll probably need a real therapist to unpack all your lifetime supply of unhealthy thoughts. But for now, remember that you’re allowed to say, “no.” And there’s nothing wrong with being different, going against the grain, and actually taking the time to figure out what’s best for YOU.


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  • Shannon

    I love this post! I think I was a lot more of a people pleaser when I was in high school and college but now that I’m on my own more (and value my time a lot more) I find it easier to say no – or to say yes for the right reasons. I think I still those moments when I don’t feel like enough because of some expectation someone else might have, but I’m getting there!

    June 14, 2018 at 11:02 PM Reply
    • thedetermineddreamer

      That’s great that you’ve learned how to do that! I’m sure we’ll always have those feelings of not being “enough” but it’s great that you’re learning to feel that way less and to know you have worth no matter what expectations you don’t meet! I’m trying to learn that too 🙂

      June 16, 2018 at 2:38 AM Reply
  • Layan

    I love this, not only because I 100% agree with it, but because I totally am going through the same transition now. I’ve spent my entire life trying to please everyone and recently, ive been asked what I want for the first time. I’ve been reading books about mindfulness and im noticing a shift in my personality where peoples opinions don’t really bother me anymore. thank you so much for this piece it really resonated with me

    June 15, 2018 at 12:58 AM Reply
    • thedetermineddreamer

      I’m so glad you can relate! It’s scary to think about yourself for a change, but it helps us grow into the people we’re meant to become. That’s amazing that you’ve been reading about mindfulness and that you’ve had that shift. I really need to work on that. Which books have you been reading? I want to have that shift too, haha!

      June 16, 2018 at 2:37 AM Reply
  • Erica @ Coming Up Roses

    This is so great – and so introspective, too. You do NOT need to fit into someone else’s mold of who you “should” be – you’re def on the right track right now!

    June 15, 2018 at 12:13 PM Reply
    • thedetermineddreamer

      Exactly! I’m so glad you agree 🙂

      June 16, 2018 at 2:35 AM Reply
  • Kellie

    It still holds true that you and I are one in the same. This has to be my favorite thing that I have read all week! For me, the month of May was filled with severe anxiety every day and an anxiety attack every week because I finished college for the semester and I have the next three months off and I really wanted to take that time to get my blog in order and focusing on the things I love. But instead, I was being told to get a ‘real’ job by those close to me and college has just left me with the perpetual feeling that I should b doing more. Thank you so so so much for writing this post. I know it was scary for you to write and post, but I’m so glad you did. You’re fantastic, girl!

    June 15, 2018 at 5:54 PM Reply
    • thedetermineddreamer

      I’m so sorry that they’re making you feel like you can’t pursue blogging full-time! That’s SO frustrating and I honestly know exactly what you’re going through. I usually try not to say that, but in this case, I can TRULY relate like 100%! I know we’re both people pleasers, so I hope you have the courage to do what’s right for you despite their opinions, but I understand if it’s too hard to do right now. It takes a lot of work to gain the courage to do that. I’m still working on it! You’re fantastic, as well, Kellie! I’m so glad we met (well, kind of “met”- I feel like I know you!) 🙂

      June 16, 2018 at 2:35 AM Reply
  • Carina

    Omg girl this is exactly what I needed to hear right now! I literally felt like I was reading my own diary entry because I could relate to EVERY single thing. And it’s funny how this pressure comes from the people closest to you (at least for me). Like if you love me, why can’t you just let me be?? Let me learn to think on my own! And if you’re disappointed in me for not fulfilling the expectations and goals YOU had for ME, then that’s in you! I love the part where you said people aren’t to be fit into boxes because it’s so true! Such a powerful phrase! I loved how you included Malala and Mother Theresa! And ‘the notebook’ gif killed me😂 Loved your thoughts, your writing is just lovely, and just reminded me that you can’t please everyone🤷🏼‍♀️💕

    June 16, 2018 at 12:39 AM Reply
    • thedetermineddreamer

      I’m so glad you can relate (well, and sorry that you can relate.) It makes me feel less alone! It’s so true that it usually comes from those closest to us. It can be so frustrating! I related to EVERYTHING you just said and appreciate that you wrote such a genuine heartfelt comment! Thank you so very much!

      June 16, 2018 at 2:32 AM Reply

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