If you're reading this, scratch the word "should" out of your vocabulary.
Okay, maybe don't get rid of the word completely. But if the last six months of mental health struggles have taught me anything, it's that most of my insecurity and self-deprecation comes from using this word.
It goes like this. I "should" apply for this job/opportunity/program/club. I "should" work out today. I "should" get up early. I "should" go out tonight. I "should" try and be more like this or that, or do more of this or that thing. I "should" finish this assignment today. I "should"... you get the picture.
It's not the word so much as the backside of those scenarios that became toxic for me. The reason I thought I should apply for certain opportunities was, in some ways, that it felt like a career move. I thought I should work out, because I have a history of body issues, not because it would make me feel good. I thought I should get up early, because I thought productivity--should--be prioritized over sleep. The reasons continue.
The never ending 'should' became my enemy and closest companion, because by placing an expectation of need on everything, it took away all sense of joy and accomplishment from activities. Once I realized the way my language was affecting the way I considered activities, I worked to change my mindset. I tried to think, 'I want to apply for this opportunity, not because I think it's a move for clout, but because I have a genuine interest in this field,' or 'I want to workout today, because it gives me an outlet and makes me feel calmer.' Even with the early-riser example, I realized I am genuinely a morning person and don't need to pretend otherwise.
Even with a change in language, sometimes it's really hard to do even the things we love, especially if we have to overcome some mental health struggles to do so. I dug myself into a hole by not giving myself a break every once in awhile, and even more by turning things I loved into chores. Breaking that thought pattern hasn't been easy.
I am on a long, winding road to recovery, and the most challenging and rewarding stop along the way is changing my words and forgiving myself when I don't meet my own lofty expectations. By wanting more and should-ing(?) less, I've been able to focus on listening to my body and mind to determine how I spend my time.
None of this is to say that a few 'should' thoughts aren't good--self-improvement and development is necessary and worthy of your time. Don't take any of this as an excuse to skimp on pushing yourself forward, but instead reflect on why you're doing it.
Look into the 'should' for the 'want,' and go from there. Oh, and forgive yourself when you falter along the way, because you will. Everyone does.
This message, as I'm sure many of the ones here share in common, is more for me than anything else. But I hope, if anything, this note made you hate the word 'should' so much (play a game by counting how many times I wrote in quotes) that you follow my advice anyway.
Julia R., University of Virginia ‘20