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The Should’s

The Should’s
Dan Dodge

I always get contemplative in the fall. It is, for me, a time of new beginnings: a new school year and a new age for me (since my birthday is in September). I get to really thinking about what I’ve learned over the last year and what I want to do in the new one.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, thanks to some awesome students who are throwing the “should”s of their lives out the window:

I think where so many people make mistakes in their lives is when we listen to the “should”s. We tend to believe that our lives “should” follow a certain path, and then we follow it even if it doesn’t work for us as individuals. “I should go to college right after high school,” we say to ourselves, even if we are unsure, it’s the right move. “I should marry the person I’m with because it’s the next logical step in our relationship.” “I should stay with the person I’m with, because they’re good and kind and, well, what if there’s no one else out there for me? I should stick to what I know.” “I should finish what I started at this job,” we say to ourselves, even when our mental health is seriously suffering and our personal relationships are falling apart as a result.

I don’t say these things to judge anyone — I’ve done them, too! But I know that the times I’ve made the best decisions of my life have been when I threw the “should”s out the window and did what was right for me. The times I’ve gone against what other, (mostly) well-meaning people have advised me to do, because I knew in my heart that those decisions were wrong for me. It means that I have basically majored in disappointing other people. More importantly, it means that what I *don’t* have a ton of experience in is disappointing myself. Some of the ways I’ve been explicitly told I’m a disappointment to others in the last decade alone (but that I am not ashamed of OR regret) have included: getting divorced, quitting a job, moving 1000 miles from my family, “living in sin” with a man before marriage, and taking COVID seriously / raising concerns when others put my family members’ health in danger. Honestly? These are some of the decisions I’m most proud of. (I guess minus the “living in sin” thing; I never saw it as sinful or shameful… what I truly am: super proud and thrilled and so, so lucky to be with Jon.) These decisions were difficult to make at the time, but they were — or are — ultimately the right decisions for me. I’d rather make the right decision, go through whatever difficulty awaits me after making it, and lead an authentic life. I hate the idea of being unhappy forever because someone else thinks I “should” stay in a particular situation.

Sometimes, the decisions that we have to make as individuals will disappoint or hurt other people. Hurting other people is never my goal — even mildly inconveniencing other people makes me cringe — but it’s something I have accepted. I have to live my life in such a way that I can sleep at night, that I can find happiness, and that I can bring happiness to those around me. (If you’re not living your life in a way that is authentic, TRUST ME – you are not doing anyone else any favors, even if it feels like you are.)

Next time someone tells you or even implies that there’s something you “should” do that you just can’t (or won’t), just know it’s ok to make your own way. Pay attention to what you really want, what you can live with, and what you can’t. I believe in you and your own ability to know what is right for YOU.


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