I did a major thing on Thursday. I quit my job.
My plan is pretty simple. I plan to travel for a couple months, then freelance in advertising.
No husband, no children, no mortage, no more student loans (huzzah) – if ever there was a time in my life to be free and pursue my dream of travel, this is it. I’m pretty fortunate to work in a field where freelance is common and after nine years in the trenches at some well-known shops, this is the time to go for it. (Yes, you may call it my "Eat Pray Love." No, I have not read the book. Yes, I thought the main character in the movie was the Most Self Absorbed Narcissist Of All Time™. No, I do not aspire to be like her.)
But as I’ve been sorting out the plans for this trip, the “wants” keep butting up against the “shoulds” in my brain. I should bring my digital SLR camera, but I want to bring my film camera. I should leave my laptop at home, but I want to write a lot while I’m away. I should travel for three months, but I want to travel for four. I should just start freelancing and see how it goes before I book a major trip, but I want to go now.
“Shoulds” can be really treacherous, almost dangerous, because it’s how we find ourselves living trapped in someone else’s idea of life for ourselves with no idea how we got there. I should work for this big name company, even though something about the interview gave me a dreadful feeling inside. I should go out tonight, even though I’d rather lay on my couch and watch Broad City. I should eat this healthy salad, even though I want to eat this juicy hamburger and fries. OK, on that last one, I probably should eat that healthy salad but ... you get the point.
The trouble with caving to all the shoulds is we start forming a life out of obligation and duty but silently and internally we carry around a lot of regret and resentment. And the more I listen to the “shoulds” when they're popping up in my brain, the more I become aware they’re really just someone else’s idea of how they want to live – or how they want me to live.
And no, I’m not talking about shirking responsibilities in work or life (“but I don’t want to reply to work emails!” “I don’t want to stay faithful to my wife!”) or being impolite or being a self-absorbed, self-serving jerk who’s not paying attention to how her wants impact others. I’m talking about listening to that little voice inside when we are making the tiniest of decisions every day so that we are in touch with doing the things we really want to do. It’s like listening to your appetite – are you eating just because the clock says noon, even if you aren’t hungry? Are you saying yes to everything in your life because you feel like you have to? Are you wondering when you are finally going to get to live the life you dream about when you're done satisfying everyone else's desires?
Part of this major life upheaval isn’t just about changing jobs or taking an extended vacation so I can put some sweet new selfies up on Instagram. It’s about having the opportunity to really listen to what it is that I want to be doing, rather than just going through the motions of what I think I should do, just to please someone else or live out some vague idea of the world’s plans and dreams for me.
I should respond to that girl’s text, I think, I should say yes even though I want to say no, I should get drinks tonight when I want to go to yoga, I should go to yoga even though I just want to go for drinks, I should play by the rules when I want to make my own way, I should work for longer so I have more money even though I want to quit now, I should take that other well-paying job even though I want to travel now.
We only live once. We should (ha ha!) be doing what we want. The more I do what I want, the more generous, fun, positive, rested, relaxed, kind, funny and fulfilled I feel. The more I do what I should, the more weighed down by some false notion of duty and obedience I get, the more I begin to feel trampled, stifled and exhausted, meeting everyone else’s expectations but my own.
Let’s ask ourselves, are we really doing what we want? Or doing only what we think we should?
On that note, I should go to sleep. But only because I want to.