Are you shoulding me?

December 15, 2014

“The world is gonna judge you no matter what you do, so live your life the way you fucking want to.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt (paraphrased)

It was October and I just finished my first half marathon. When I started training last summer, I envisioned writing some profound “self-actualization through running” post after accomplishing my goal. But that’s not really how it went. In fact, upon receiving my finishers medal, and in the weeks after, I felt pretty crummy. My mind and body were wrecked. From the start I knew that logging all those miles would take a toll on my bad back, hips, and knees. But when a friend of mine asked me to run, I said “yes” anyway, because I thought I should

About the same time I started increasing my running mileage, my work was beginning to get noticed. Admittedly I liked the attention, but I started feeling pressured to take on more consulting work. Right along with earning a Ph.D (and running half marathons), it’s one of the trendy things for student affairs professionals to take up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I fell into the trap – feeling like what I was doing just wasn’t enough. And so I launched a new website and took on a ton of new clients in addition to my 8-5ish job and long runs on the weekends.

I became a career coaching and slogging machine. My business was booming, but my relationships and hobbies were starting to suffer. My husband had to share quality time with me, the treadmill, and a stack of résumés that needed editing. I stopped writing for fun and began feeling censored, boxed-in, and uninspired. (You guys – I even stopped using swears in my blog posts.)

Present day: It’s December and I am running and consulting much less. I am tired, but I am happy. I’ve been kicking ass at my job, teaching a biz comm class on the side, consulting a little, and saying “NO” a lot. I passed on more writing and speaking gigs and said “YES” to more wine-jamma Fridays with my partner and friends. I said “yes” to more recharge days and “no” to more meetings.

I felt guilty at first, but then I let that shit GO.

I stopped shoulding on myself and so should you.

The trick is to figure out what YOU want. This takes most of us a while, it’s OKAY. I know it seems like everyone around you is running marathons while writing science fiction novels and raising quadruplets who play classical piano. It’s easy to get insecure about this, so when people compliment your talents it’s easy to get sucked into what everyone else is doing. Respond to unsolicited advice with a silent, “ARE YOU SHOULDING ME?!” and then a hearty, “THANKS, BUT NO THANKS.”

If you want to go back to school to get your MBA, cool! If you want to take up cross country skiing, cool! If you want to become a professional speaker, cool! If you want to spend your Sunday watching Netflix and eating Nutella out of the jar, you do you my friend. I support you (and please pass the Nutella.)

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December 16, 2014 @ 9:54 am

I don’t understand the objective of this post. “Just do whatever.” Anyone can write that! Where’s the critical thinking in this?

    December 16, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    Jane, I wish you would have elaborated on what you were looking to get out of this post, since you felt strongly enough to comment. You’re correct – anyone could have written this, but they didn’t. (Nor do they want to. Which was kind of the point.)

    As for critical thinking, this was never meant to be a peer-reviewed journal, but it’s the clearest thinking I’ve done in a while. Thanks for stopping by.

December 16, 2014 @ 10:15 am


    December 16, 2014 @ 10:48 am

    High five, Jennifer! Thanks for reading.

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  • Joshua Tepps
    December 16, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    Thank you for this. I feel like I spent 2014 listening to all the shoulds and letting them affect my outlook on my life. As opposed to what Jane said, this gives me a lot to think about as I head into 2015. I found it hard to answer “what do you want” because I felt like I should do/say a lot of things a lot of ways. Sometimes it’s the simplest of posts or messages that bring clarity. Thank you for it Mallory.

      December 16, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

      Thanks for reading, Joshua. It’s not easy to block out the noise so we can figure out what we really want. Cheers to you “getting yours” in 2015.

    December 16, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I feel like I should be doing more in job, life, and career. There is this outside pressure that I should be working on a Ph.D., presenting at conferences, and looking for the job that will propel me forward. I would like to do all of these but right now it doesn’t seem natural. I think we forget that we are allowed to BE happy in where we are now and not constantly trying to hustle in the next thing.

      December 16, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

      Yes! We have this tendency to move on as soon as we feel a twinge of happiness or stability. The secret? We’re allowed to take off our coats and stay a while. Enjoy it! Thanks for reading, Anh!

    December 16, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

    I couldn’t agree with this more! Thanks for sharing – sometimes we just need to hear someone else stay it!

      December 16, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

      Thanks for reading, Meagan. You’re right – deep down we know what we should be doing, but a nudge from someone else can do wonders! Cheers!

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  • Jamie G.
    December 17, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    Mallory, what a timely post! This is exactly how life has been going for me (it’s so nice to know I’m not alone). I’ve realized that the important things aren’t getting the attention they deserve because I’m exhausting myself mentally with all the “shoulds.” Here’s to 2015 being the year of figuring it out and learning how to focus on better self-care!

      December 17, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

      Jamie – I think so many of us go through this and thing we’re alone in it. Cheers to you doing more for yourself in the coming year!

    December 17, 2014 @ 7:14 pm

    Having just canceled my registration for the GRE, this was great. I’ve been doing a lot of back and forth thinking about what is the next step for me. A lot of people say I “should” go to grad school, so the pressure is there. But I need to remember what I want and need to do to make myself happy.

    We’ll end up forgetting to live if we get stuck on the “should’s”. Thank you for sharing!

      December 18, 2014 @ 9:39 am

      Shelby – good for you! There is so much pressure these days to go to grad school. You have to make sure it works for your interests (and your wallet!) I’ve always admired your free spirit and I’d be a shame to see you lose that spark. Cheers, girl!

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