As the end of the year draws near, many people become reflective. We think about what we’ve accomplished (maybe), and we definitely think about what we have not done (how is this year OVER already?!). This bears some similarity to the effect that adult birthdays sometimes have as we get firmly into middle age. We think about all the things we thought we’d have sorted out by now. We think of all the things we thought we would have accomplished by now. At the end of the year we think of all the resolutions and self-promises we made at the beginning of the year that perhaps we lost track of. I sometimes wonder if the absolute frenzy over the winter holidays is really just an attempt to avoid facing all of that (Holy Crap it’s going to be 2017): the parade of shoulds.

I should have done this; I should have done that. I SHOULD be doing all kinds of things that I’m not currently doing. In order to meet my full potential, I definitely SHOULD… The thing about should-ing yourself is that it really seems to build on itself, especially if the should you think of first is something you really don’t want to do. I SHOULD make a plan for what we’re going to eat all week during the weekend so I’m never caught flatfooted during the week. I REALLY don’t like doing that, so I can quickly come up with all kinds of other shoulds and sort of rifle through them until I find one I can and am willing to do. The problem is the rifling through generates a big parade of shoulds. Now when I say parade, you might be thinking of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or some other joyful parade with marching bands, floats, children singing in choirs and, some local hero or celebrity. A parade of shoulds is NOTHING like that parade.

slide1A parade of shoulds is like a collection of people who don’t like you very much and each one of them has a very specific way that you have failed as their motivating force for walking the parade route. There is no music. There are no Shriners or little cars. There is just a large solemn group carrying judgy signs about all the things you really ought to be doing. Mine would also have clowns, because I hate clowns, but that’s just me. What do I do in the face of a parade of shoulds? Well, I’ll tell you. I don’t do much at all. I become thoroughly overwhelmed and what might have started as a thoughtful list of ways I could improve my life becomes a very daunting indictment. So some part of me just starts spinning and I give up. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m giving up; I just feel like I’m moving a lot without accomplishing anything.

slide2The other day I was on a training call with a FABULOUS coach and she gave us the best piece of advice. From that long list of shoulds, pick one thing. Pick the one you think will help the most. Pick the one that sounds like the most fun. Pick the one that you might even look forward to doing. Pick one and put the rest of that list away. Do what you need to do to put it away cleanly. Seal it in an envelope that says “do not open until you’ve finished Job 1” or until some random date or for the next two weeks. Just pick one. Give yourself permission to focus on it exclusively and let all the other should parade members just wait. They really won’t mind. They’re not a highly motivated bunch. If you tell them to sit, they’ll be glad for the rest. You will be okay. You will be better than okay for setting them aside and actually digging in on that one task.

What “should” would give you the most mileage? What “should” would energize you? What “should” would be such a relief that moving on to others would be easy? Pick one. Just pick ONE and do it. I know you can. If you need some help picking one, or if the judgy signs in your should parade have you totally paralyzed, have a friend dial my number so I can help you (240-367-9730).


  1. Oh gosh, I’m Queen of Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda Land. Seriously. But to pick just one thing, now there’s an idea. It would be nice to look back on the year, see that I have accomplished that ONE thing, and feel good about myself for a change! Great advice. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. I love this piece, Julia – and especially how you describe the parade of shoulds. That is so true! What wonderful advice to choose just one and benefit ourselves as opposed to beating ourselves up. Thank you so much for sharing with us at Hearth and Soul.

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