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Frances Cushway

Career Coaching



Is the word 'should' weighing you down?

Posted by [email protected] on February 1, 2017 at 9:55 AM

How often in the day do you find yourself saying ‘I should...’? I should eat a salad for lunch rather than a fry up. I should do more exercise. I should have a job where I am earning more.

Should is so engrained in our language that we use it without thinking. But for a small word it packs a mighty big punch as to how we see ourselves and whether we are likely to do something. The implication of saying ‘should’ is that what we are doing is not enough or isn’t acceptable. We aren’t doing what we are supposed to. But in whose eyes?

The role of ‘should’ in careers

From the point of view of Career Coaching when I hear a client use the word ‘should’ it sets off some pretty big alarm bells. It implies that the client feels that something should be different in their career, not because they necessarily want it to be but because of some external pressure for it to be different.

‘I should be earning more money by now, at my age.’

‘My children are at school now so I should get a proper job again.’

‘My best subject at school is English so I guess I should do that at University.’

‘I should go to university if I want to get a good job.’

‘I’ve got a degree in Maths so I should do something that involves numbers or data.’

‘I’ve worked in this field for so long I should stick with it, otherwise it would be a waste of all those years I’ve put in.’

‘I’m working in the job I’ve always dreamed of, so I should be happy.’

How ‘should’ affects your emotions and behaviour

The word ‘should’ in all these examples conjures up some pretty negative emotions – disappointment, guilt, unhappiness, frustration, anxiety, stress and a feeling that you have or are letting yourself down in some way. It can make you resent the decisions you have made and feel obliged to do things you don’t want to do. You feel like you have no control over what you choose to do. Feeling that you should have done something differently or something else doesn’t give you any credit for what you have done. And for the rebellious among us, the word ‘should’ is like a red rag to stop you from doing it!

These ‘shoulds’ can come about for a variety of reasons. Comparing yourself with your peers, who are on a different career path, can make you feel that you are not doing as well as them. Comparing yourself with society’s image of the perfect mother can make you feel that you aren’t doing enough for your family. Making decisions based on time or financial investment to date rather than doing what you enjoy means that you are removing your autonomy or free will.

How can you turn ‘should’ into something more positive?

As a Career Coach, my first step is to investigate where the word ‘should’ is coming from. Why does a client feel that they should be doing something? Who says that they should? What happens if they don’t do it? It’s a pretty challenging question and often uncovers some deeply ingrained thoughts and beliefs that can stem from a clients upbringing, family philosophies and societal stereotyping.

Once we have got to the bottom of where the ‘should’ is coming from, the next step is working through whether this is something the client actually wants and if so, to reframe the statement to elicit more positive emotions around it. Using ‘want’, ‘can’, ‘could’ or ‘would like’ all lead to more positive feelings around the client’s goals or aims. They can make a client feel more motivated to do what’s needed to achieve their goal and feel like they have control again.

Top tips to stop your ‘shoulds’ from weighing you down

  1. Stop and think about why you feel you should do something. Using one of the examples above, why do you feel that now your children are at school you should have a ‘proper job’ again? Is this for society expectations, peer pressure, parental pressure? (Note I do not include financial reasons here as in that case it would be a ‘need’ rather than ‘should’.)

  2. Once you understand a bit more about the ‘why’ you can then start to think about whether it will benefit you. If so, by reframing the ‘should’ into something that elicits positive feelings or emotions, you are more likely to do it and be successful. ‘Now the children are at school I would like to find some work that gets me out of the house but also fits in with my family life.’

  3. If you feel that it won’t benefit you, you can then start to generate some ideas about what you would ‘like’ to do instead. ‘I would like to take some time to get fit and find some time to have a breather before I find a job. That way I will have more energy and enthusiasm to take on extra work.’


Are you struggling with any ‘shoulds’ in your career right now? If my top tips don’t help, do get in touch to see whether career coaching can help you turn your ‘shoulds’ to ‘coulds’.


Categories: Career Coaching, Top tips