Post written by Susan Lacke.
In the midst of being on the support crew for my friend Carlos’ chemotherapy treatments, I’ve been inundated with a million You should’s:
“You should tell him about this doctor.”
“You should come to bible study/temple/meditation with me.”
“You should read this book.”
“You should teach him about juicing.”
“You should be feeling more (insert emotion here).”
“You should be feeling less (insert emotion here).”
“You should check out this website on alternative cancer treatments.”
“You should go see my therapist.”
Though I appreciate the consideration and concern, whenever I hear a “you should,” I want to tell people what they should do. Hint: it isn’t pleasant…nor anatomically possible.
If you’ve experienced the agony of watching someone you care about deeply endure the rigors of chemotherapy, you know it’s one of the most helpless feelings you’ll ever experience. Anything you do just isn’t enough — it doesn’t fix him.
Hearing “you should” only adds to that feeling of incompetence. If I did everything I should, as dictated by everyone around me, I’d be up to my elbows in green juice, books, conflicting emotions, and who knows what else. None of it would make me feel better, and, most importantly, none of it would fix my friend.
In short, I don’t know what I should be doing, but it certainly isn’t any of those things.
You’ve probably experienced it, too.
Every day, we’re told what we should do, and it doesn’t always add up.
We should be eating more vegetables; we should be cautious of pesticides. We should be running for health; we should be concerned about the stress running places on our system. We should be more compassionate; we should stop being such bleeding hearts.
We should be informed about our world; we should avoid being brainwashed by others. We should love with reckless abandon; we should guard ourselves from heartbreak. We should be kind to everyone; we should be wary of people who are different. We should change; we should stay exactly the same.
We should live life to the fullest. We should be scared of the big, bad world.
If there’s one thing I’m learning from all this, it’s that I don’t give a shit about the shoulds anymore.
It’s easy to get caught up in the shoulds. We place a lot of weight on what others have to say, for a lot of reasons: Maybe we care about what they have to say, or they have expertise on the topic, or, quite simply, they kinda sound like they know what they’re talking about. When you’re in a new and challenging situation, it’s comforting to turn to someone else for guidance. It’s easy to take one of the paths others have taken.
But there’s more than one path, and there’s no guarantee any one will be the right one for you.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to anything in life. Sure, you fall into the category of being a human being. That doesn’t mean you need to do the same thing as other human beings. You’re a friend — just like millions of other people with that label. Surely you don’t do things exactly the same way as they do. You may be a parent, spouse, sibling, or child, but certainly not a carbon copy of the parent, spouse, sibling, or child standing next to you.
If the paths you should take aren’t right for you, make your own.
If it feels right in your gut, it’s probably because because it is right.
I’ve accepted I can’t fix Carlos. I don’t like it, but I’ve accepted it. I have to trust in Carlos, his doctors, his nurses, and the medications to do that. In the meantime, all I can do is ignore the shoulds and be whatever he needs me to be — whether it’s a sounding board, a distraction, or someone to just sit in silence with him. When it gets to be too much for me to deal with, I’ve finally found my coping mechanism:
Every other Friday, when Carlos is in the midst of his of chemotherapy treatment, I go to my old pool where he and I used to train together with a Masters group.
Sometimes I see our old coach, and we chat before doing intervals. Sometimes I start the stopwatch, leave it by the pool, and swim until I can’t swim anymore. Sometimes I talk to the blue stripe, and sometimes it talks back to me. Sometimes bubbles come out of my nose as I laugh, sometimes my goggles fill up with tears, and sometimes I get mad and punch the water with every stroke.
But every time, one thing is for certain: For me, this pool is a hell of a lot better than any book or therapist.
It’s exactly what I should be doing.
Whatever your situation, don’t be afraid to ignore the shoulds. Even if you start out feeling lost, you’ll eventually realize you’ve known the right path all along.
“I will dare to do just what I do. Be just what I am. And dance whenever I want to.” – Beverly Williams