Feeling like Your Life is Less than Perfect? Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself 

By Tabitha A. Scott

Have you ever felt buried under the weight of endless expectations, knowing that there was no way you could possibly meet them all? Do you feel frustrated or guilty for not spending enough time doing all the things you should? Are you stressed out being a parent, a protector, and a makeshift schoolteacher all at once? Our unprecedented times have brought on equally unparalleled pressures. But, there’s good news! We can rescue ourselves from the Should Monster and let go of what’s holding our happiness captive.

As a Southern, conservatively-raised mom, these refrains kept running on repeat in my mind: You should be a good girl. Follow tradition and don’t ask too many questions along the way. Submit to your husband, obey the religious rules defined thousands of years ago, and by all means do it with grace, humility, and beauty. Strive to be appropriate, acceptable, agreeable, and normal. Keep up with the latest at the kids’ schools, in the neighborhood, with the faith community, and you really should wear a more attractive, ladylike pair of heels instead of those comfy shoes—for goodness’ sake, it’s important to look fashionable (bless your heart). 

As a hard-charging, progressive business executive, these thoughts fought for equal consideration: You should be a powerful leader. You made it to CEO by age 30, then a senior executive at two global companies thereafter, so we’re expecting more from you. We’re counting on you to suck it up; never let them see your weaknesses; outperform, inspire, compete, be strong, and lead. Be that mentor for other women who want success, push the boundaries, drive the business forward, and ditch your twangy Southern accent—it doesn’t serve you in the boardroom or behind the podium. Keep up with the latest in economic trends, the energy sector, and global trade policies. And for God’s sake, polish those darn shoes before you return to the Pentagon—you’re working with top brass now, and it’s important to look the part. 

Sound familiar? You should be sure the kids are getting their schoolwork done, you should make sure a healthy dinner is on the table, you should be taking care of your fitness needs, and you should be preoccupied with everyone’s safety and your own sanity. This unhealthy habit of allowing others to “should” on us, and worse yet, “shoulding” on ourselves for not being able to do it all, drains our positivity and adds to the already-too-heavy load. 

For me, it felt like I was running a marathon and when I neared the end, the finish line was moved further away. One child got narcolepsy at age 16, derailing his dreams of being a pilot and joining the Service. The other child went from travel team soccer goalie to wheelchair-bound while recovering from five painful corrective surgeries on his legs. A career spent trying to help the environment while many Americans turned a blind eye to increasing asthma, diabetes, and cancer resulting from pollution.  Just a little farther, I used to think. Hang in there. You’re almost there! Until one day I wondered, Where the heck is “there,” that proverbial finish line? And does anyone ever actually arrive? 

It was as if one day I awoke to the realization that all of a sudden, the kids had grown and gone, my 21-year marriage was over, my career had been based on implementing ideas nobody seemed to care about, and the combined stress was starting to impact my health. There was no triumphant finish to this race. My life had become like a fake smile in a selfie. Everyone could see me beaming in the post, but the joy inside had grown tired and despondent. 

Amidst the increasing fatigue, I unexpectedly had to deal with a cancer scare. A quick search on WebMD to understand more about my situation and the decisions at hand revealed a study of the impact stress had on women’s health. It concluded that those under significant stress had twice the risk of developing breast cancer as women who managed to stay calm. No surprise there, I thought. Grateful for the gift of early detection, I called my insurance company to be sure everything would be covered, then informed the surgeon I was ready to go ahead: “Just take what you need to remove the risk.” 

How had I gotten to that point of feeling like no amount of trying could help me meet all those expectations—and where was I supposed to go next? What I learned while balancing at the edge of a “fast-forward” civilization was that no matter how far or how fast I ran, the feeling of true freedom from burnout, stress, and anxiety was achieved most quickly by selecting “pause.” I discovered how to reconnect to that innate source of life-giving energy, that deep-seated wisdom within, and I listened to it. I found a way to identify and shed the harmful pressures we put on ourselves. And I uncovered how to survive the burnout that comes from trying to keep pace with ever-changing technology, unforeseen tragedies, and social uncertainty. 

While I’ve spent most of my adult life in Nashville, I grew up on a small farm in Kentucky. Dad instilled the hard work ethic, the competitiveness, and the fear of what happens if you don’t follow the rules. One of his mottos was, “There are no such thing as mistakes, only stupid decisions.” Mom injected a generous dose of patience and love for all creatures and people. “There are no good or bad animals, God made them all to carry out an important purpose, just like every person in the world.”  The combo made for a highly driven perfectionist who adores all types of animals. 

Well, maybe I didn’t “adore” them all, but at least I respected their purposes, like the slithering snakes who shared an important life lesson with me at the height of my burnout. In exasperation, I asked my grandma from “the great beyond” for signs of what to do next. We were close when she was alive, and I kept up the dialogue after she transitioned—it was a way to keep her close to my heart. I kept seeing snakes in my yard, on my walks, bicycle rides, or just hiking along. It was a weird answer to my question. Creepy, crawly snakes kept showing up to the point where my friends began helping me research on-line, reading books, looking for anything that would help explain these phenomena. 

Until one day, it hit me like a bolt of lightning on a brightly sunny day—smack dab in the middle of the country road where I stopped and dismounted my bicycle to await the lazy moseying by of a long, black snake. “Shed your skin!” I saw the words like a billboard in my mind and goosebumps sprang up faster than the whack-a-mole game at Chuck e’ Cheeses. (Goosebumps are one of my indicators that my intuition had the microphone and was coming through loud and clear.) I’d resolved the riddle. Shed your skin, I thought, that’s kinda weird.

I did some research and learned that snakes shed their skin for two reasons, first to get rid of all the parasites that have burrowed their way into the skin. How many parasites had I allowed into my own life? My negative self-talk, my perfectionism, my need for people-pleasing that attracted those eager to take advantage. We’ve all got our list of parasites, those things that we let get beneath our skin and make us uncomfy, fearful, and drained.

The second reason snakes shed their skin is so they may let go of what’s holding them back. Literally. Because snakeskin doesn’t stretch, the critters have to leave it behind to thrive, to grow, and to reach their full potential. I had been allowing others to “should” all over me for decades, and worse, I was “shoulding” all over myself. After tuning in to the message, I didn’t see another snake for years. 

It’s not always obvious whether an influence is for our own best interest or to get us to conform to someone else’s perspective. Sometimes, we feel compelled to listen and react to pressures, even if they don’t align with our values, because we want to please our friends, our families, and even ourselves. Over time, doing things that aren’t in sync with our own desires creates burnout. Each instance is like an invisible leech sucking out our power. To help identify these negative forces, the following process may be used to keep us from being “should on.” 

First, identify whether a “should” is helpful or harmful. Since quantum science has proven we are actually made up of quanta or little packets of vibrating energy, it makes logical sense that our language provides a plethora of clues for whether a force will insulate or amplify our positivity. The lists below provide groups of words for which to listen—these words will help you determine whether to receive or filter out advice. 

Positive Shoulds make us feel: in sync, resonating, spun
up with joy, vibrating, lit up, transformed, accelerated, amplified, ignited, positive, tuned in, connected

Negative Shoulds (aka the Should Monster) make us feel: isolated, cut off, out of
sync, off track, spun up with anger, powerless, insulated, slowed, stopped, inhibited, forced, negative, limited, confined, restricted, frayed, fragmented, out of balance

There was so much pressure about the choices I’d made in the past and which ones I would choose next. The focus was on selecting the “right” path instead of comprehending that all paths offered equal opportunity to invent, then reinvent, my real-time, personal definition of “success.” I took the advice of the snakes and left behind the old…quitting my job, giving away most of my things, and living in a remote area of Costa Rica near the jungle without even a cell phone signal for nearly three months.

What I learned in the heat of the jungle there, which was in ways akin to the “jungle” of stress back at home, that true power came from who you are and that it’s reborn from those actions that could be considered passive, like listening, feeling, and loving. I learned lessons from a host of other wild animals while thousands of miles from home, like bats, scorpions, monkeys, and birds. But it doesn’t take a trip to the jungle to tap into your positivity again, the answers are inside, ready for your tuning in. 

I wrote the book, Trust Your Animal Instincts: Recharge Your Life and Ignite Your Power to reveal the triumphs and tribulations of my personal transformation, fully understanding the risk of exposing myself as a vulnerable student of the universe instead of the got-it-together executive image that used to be so important to me. I shed the fear of looking stupid and embraced the opportunity to serve others. Everyone can enjoy recharging their life and reconnecting to intuition and vibrant, joyful energy. 

Remember, we are ALL feeling off-balance right now. The next time you’re allowing negativity to steal your happiness, or the next time you hear the Should Monster speaking through your friends, family, or yourself, remember the lessons from my slithering friends and let it go. Shed. Your. Skin. You’ll be amazed at the potential power waiting to be set free!

About the Author: 

Tabitha A. Scott is an international advisor, keynote speaker, award-winning author, and a thought leader in electrical and human energy. She led efforts in creating the world’s largest solar-powered community and was recognized for her technology innovations by the White House. Currently serving as Principal at Souther Growth Studio, Tabitha is a Kentucky native who lives in Nashville, TN. Powering-Potential.com.