Just as eating right is good for the body, doing what you are authentically wanting to do with your life is the food of mind, body and soul. Doing what you think you must, what you ought or worse, what you “should do” is toxic.
I grew up in a family that was big on “should”. It was still an era where little girls should quietly and prettily, should be wheeled out to sing for guests, shouldn’t mention any embarrassing, personal or emotional subjects. We were taught that we had to present a perfect front to be socially acceptable, though it never mattered a hang what went on underneath. We had to present perfect appearances in every sense.
I loathed the entire set-up. I was full of angst and ideologies and had adopted fiery political causes which alienated me further from everyone around. Some of it came from a genuine fury at the social injustices in the world, and the remainder from a deep dislike of the fake social circuit I was told I should become a part of. I had dreams of changing the world, being a journalist and a dream of a different family of my own where everyone had a voice.
With too little education, I scrabbled at few “proper” jobs. Loathing them, I started experimenting with setting up small businesses. A fiancé to fit my rebel instincts came walking into my life, bringing one spare pair of jeans and some great cowboy boots. I never spotted his ambitions to join the social circuit I so abhorred. He and my mother became allies in the world of should, and between them managed what one had not, to start to push me into it. Looking back, I think had I been left to my own devices, I would have called the entire marriage off. But instead, I donned the clothes I was told to wear, changed my lifestyle and went ahead with a marriage that was to prove disaster.
Ten years on of doing what I should, found me broke and on my own. My mother was remained fonder of my ex than of me or indeed the grandchildren, so it became just me and them against the world. But at least I had the freedom to start being me, trying out my way.
I started a business to make ends meet. You could argue that was a “should”, in order to get some money, but it wasn’t really. The easiest thing to do would have been to sit back and stay on benefits. But I wanted my children to have everything I could give them, and that is one hell of a motivator.
It was great in some ways, especially initially. With my total ignorance of growing a business, I scraped my way through challenges, but with the joyous ability combine work with being a mum, working at home and looking after them at the same time. I felt I could be truly me for the first time in my life.
By a combination of luck and hard graft, I learned and was able to grow a business from kitchen table to a sizeable enterprise. But success came at a price. In achieving it, I had become something I didn’t set out to be – an entrepreneur and businesswoman.
As the children got older, I started to suffer from depression. The business had become an entirely different animal, not a fun challenge, where we were free to make it up as we went along. It became instead a game of red tape, of staff issues, of me acting the part of a business leader and playing by the rules.
For a while, my son joined the business, which made it a family business and another “should”, a complete given in fact that I would stay there till I dropped. When he decided to go travelling, I found I was running a business in a way I didn’t enjoy, and with zero motivation. But there was obligation and a whole new set of “shoulds”, staff to think about, and jobs that relied on me.
The combination of overwork and attempting to be a person I simply wasn’t, all in order to deliver rewards that had no personal motivation, is in the end a totally toxic one. It is a recipe not just for unhappiness but for dis-ease in every sense. On and on I went, because I felt I should, till it was finally one illness too many and I had to give in.
I looked back and wondered what happened to the banner waiving teenager with a passionate desire to be a journalist. How did I end up an overworked, capitalist business owner doing a job I hated? Well undoubtedly motherhood had something to do with it. Many women take a course in life to suit their desire to have and support their children. They may put their careers on hold or take jobs they don’t really want. It shouldn’t be like that. But often we have to make compromises.
As a coach, when I hear the words “I should” from someone, my heart turns over for them. We should all, instead, get back to being the child we once were, do regular checks that our dreams are still alive, and check our goals are what we want, not what others want. My passion had been to have the money to care for the children and look after them at the same time I should have stopped there, but growing your business is expected. Big mistake; huge. Running growing businesses is not for everyone and that should be absolutely ok.
Now re-invented as me, I feel more successful now, doing a mix of coaching, writing and speaking, than I ever did running an international business. Never, ever run a type of business or a business in any way because someone says you should. Follow your authentic self, listening to your own inner voice, at whatever stage of life you are at, is the deep down essential rule to follow.Read more