The word “should” can be powerful. It can be a tool to help solve problems, it can identify a hurdle that you have to overcome, or it can be a point of stagnation – it comes down to actions surrounding the word.
Should expresses an expectation. In some ways it is used as a hypothesis as in:
“If I do this then that should happen”.
In other ways it is used to express an opinion or a projection of what is “right”:
“This should be the way the world works”.
When a specific set of actions is laid out ahead of “should”, as is the case in the first example, you can call that a proactive approach to expectations. It communicates an expected outcome based on the steps leading up to the result. This is the idea behind the scientific method and it lends itself to learning and growing. It is part of an analytical process and provides feedback on how well you understand a specific scenario. It is also iterative in that it gives you information to use the next time you are faced with a similar situation.
When should is a reaction, as is the case in the second example, this is projecting an idea onto something else. It can be thought of as virtue signalling, in a way, in that it is an expression of an opinion. Depending upon the actions taken following such statements, this can either be the starting point of motion or a place of stagnation – we will look at this more below.
The Proactive Approach
The proactive side of the argument – where “should” is used to express a hypothesis – holds a lot of benefit to an individual. Like was mentioned before, this method of guessing the result based on actions taken is a great way to learn, iterate, and improve.
Using this method to solve any problem helps to take the subjective influence out of learning and helps us to stay objective when analyzing a situation. This is helpful when dealing with humans, as we are emotional creatures by nature.
By thinking through and predicting how a course of action will end up, you will give yourself a data point to check in with – you will have context for how a situation unfolds. After the dust settles, you will be able to analyze the situation and find things that didn’t go as planned or that you can do better. You will also identify those things that you did well and keep those for next time.
When things go totally sideways and the train jumps the track, you can then go back to the drawing board and think up a new solution and try the whole deal over again. Thinking in this more objective manner helps to keep you out of the subjective headspace where feelings and emotions cloud judgement.
The Reactive Approach
The more interesting side of “should” is the reactive side. This side of the discussion forks one of two ways – one initiates action to take place, the other is stagnation; again, it depends on what else happens around “should”.
The reactive side of “should” sounds like the following:
“It shouldn’t be this hard”
“This should just take care of itself”
Well, reality is that the situation is exactly that hard and that thing is likely not going to just take care of itself. The question that needs answered here is, what are you going to do to overcome these challenges?
There are two ways to go from here – the Initiated way and the weak way.
The Weak Way
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this section, but it is important to discuss. The weak path is chosen by those who want to continue to stay in this world of “should”. They don’t want to change their routines, they don’t want to step up and take action, they want to continue to stay stagnant and find comfort in their great ideas of what “should be”.
These people may seek validation from others for their great and groundbreaking ideas of what should be and they will be proud of themselves for having standards higher than the situation they find themselves in.
These people are draining to be around. Nothing is ever good enough for them.
The Initiated Way
The stronger path, the Initiated path, is to pick up the ball and run with it. When you begin to feel that something is not right or doesn’t align with your expectations, you seek to change.
In this case, “should” is the starting point for action. It sets off a lightbulb that tells you you may need to hit the drawing boards to figure out a solution. This is the path chosen by people that accept the challenge and decide to do something differently.
There are two variables that need to be considered in these situations by an individual who is deciding they will not be bested and that they will come out on top.
- What actions are you willing to do?
- What are the limitations of the situation you are in?
The first point is important to break down a bit further. It refers to what actions you are willing to do, not what you’re able to do. This is an important distinction.
Part of self-reliance is having the awareness and discipline to set boundaries. Not every situation that you come across will be worth dying on the hill for – some things are just not that critical; and these things should be recognized early so that you can approach them accordingly.
Once you understand what you are willing to do, then you can start to put a plan together for what you will do – what actions are you going to take to overcome this situation and close the gap between what “should be” and what “is”.
The second point is to understand the limitations of the situation you are in. Again, this is tied to awareness, but there will be some situations where there are limitations in what you are able to accomplish. You are not going to overhaul an organization’s operations, for example, so if what “should be” cannot exist within the rules of an organization, you’re limited in what you will be able to do to close the gap while remaining in that arena.
There is no value in being the martyr for causes that are not that important. There is greater value in taking action to find a way out of your problem that works for you.
After mulling over these two considerations, you will be able to decide on a path forward but it will result in either:
- Closing the gap between what is and what should be – making changes to positively impact the situation you find yourself in.
- Cutting ties with whatever the situation is and moving on – by first deciding whether you achieve your goals with the limitations at hand, you can then decide whether cutting ties with the situation and moving on is the better choice. No reason to stick around if you cannot succeed in what you want to do where you are at.
Again, I must reiterate, self-reliance is about having the awareness to be able to take a step back and see what the situation is to decide to act accordingly.
Further, remember that this is all driven toward taking action in some way. The point is that “should” doesn’t accomplish anything on its own. Closing the gap requires you to take decisive action. Either stay and make changes or leave and solve your problems another way; whichever path gives you the best chance of success.
Finally, allow me to clarify that there is a difference between cutting ties with a situation and running away from problems. I am not suggesting that you run away from anything; I am saying something different. I am saying that if, when you take a look at the situation and challenges you are up against, you see that the limitations are too great, you have a choice to make.
- Either the problem is not that important and therefore does not need to be pursued further in which case I am suggesting you put your efforts toward more pressing matters.
- Or, if the limitations are too great to overcome how you initially planned, it is on you to find another route to get where you want to go. This may involve cutting ties with your immediate situation and coming at the problem from another angle.
Whenever you hear the word “should” your ears should perk up. Look at how it’s being used, who is using it, and what they are talking about.
It should be an indication that there is action to be taken. It shouldn’t be an excuse to complain about a situation taking place and it shouldn’t be used to seek validation for an idea.
Instead of using “should”, use more concrete language. Form an opinion, state that opinion confidently, and take action. Passing off great ideas of what “should be” are worth little unless you’re going to follow that up with actions to close the gap.
Yours in strength,