Should Shaming: What Expectations Are Holding You Back?

“You’re not a failure for not being where you think you ‘should’ be”

Seeing that quote shared on Social Media reminded me of this blog I wrote a few years ago. It’s just as relevant today as it was then.

Are You A Should Shamer?

I was at an an Escape the City event in Bristol on World Escape Day in 2015.

Bristol was one of 22 cities who simultaneously celebrated the event. Escape the City is an international movement to help people escape unfulfilling jobs and transition into the new world of work.

In the room, at the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, were people wanting to escape for various reasons, as well as people who had already escaped.

As an entrepreneur, I was one of the ‘I’ve already escaped’ and found myself talking about my experiences and tips for escaping to the world of self-employment.

At the event, we grouped together and shared our challenges and what was holding us back.

In the group I was in someone said ‘should shaming’.

This intrigued me and it’s something we probably all feel at some stage in our lives. Even the alliteration – the combination of ‘sh’ sounds is like being berated.

‘Should shaming’ is the sense that you should be doing something or not doing something and if you don’t then you should be ashamed.

There are 3 big instigators of should shaming in our lives:

1) Ourselves

Telling ourselves what we should have achieved by now then being ashamed of ourselves because we haven’t done it. We are often our biggest critic.

I’ve had many conversations with people in their 30s and 40s lamenting the fact that they haven’t done the things they ‘should’ have done at their age, like get married or buy their own home.

Being self employed can be tough. My levels of positivity and negativity about what I do can fluctuate across the scale in the space of minutes!

One minute I’ve had a great call with a client and can confidently say to myself, “Yes. That was great. I’m bloody good at this!”

The next I’m justifying myself to someone else while Imposter Syndrome in my head tells me, “They’re right you know. What do you actually know about business?”

2) Other people

Other people have expectations about what we should have done and make us feel shame for disappointing them.

Friends and family often do this without malicious intent; but because they care about us and they can’t help but project their own values on us because that is their understanding and experience of the world.

Many of my friends and family have no experience of self employment and just don’t understand what I do. I regularly deal with doe eyed looks of sympathy because in their eyes, I’m ‘unemployed’. Constantly being asked if I have any work or being advised to “go get yourself a nice little part time job.”

3) Society in general

Society puts expectations on us then shames us for not conforming.

(I’ll avoid getting into the politics of the ruling elite’s necessity to have compliant citizens. As well as deep held cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs that dictate the traditions we live by.)

Instead, here are some of the typical ways we are told (or tell ourselves) we should do something:

  • You’re in your thirties if you’ve not married there’s something wrong with you.
  • You’re a woman of childbearing age you should have children (this one especially is close to my heart, as a woman who has chosen not to become a mother. I’m constantly judged for this, even feared that I am somehow some kind of child hating monster!

You should…

  • Be a home owner
  • Have a career plan
  • Earn a certain amount to be of any worth to society
  • Be ambitious
  • Work for someone else
  • Have a job to go to before leaving a job
  • Be thin and beautiful
  • Always be fashionably dressed
  • Be normal 

I believe, there is only one should:

‘Do what makes you happy’ – set your own goals and expectations for yourself and never be ashamed of the person you are.

Too often, we compare ourselves to others – but you are comparing your insides to other people’s outsides – that’s hardly a fair comparison!

People present the best side of themselves in public, you have no way of knowing what is really going on inside that person you are comparing yourself to.

Comparing yourself to others will only make you miserable (Tweet This)

Comparing yourself to others will only make you miserable

Here’s one top tip to banish that should shaming voice inside us:

Change the should to could and the shame to pride:

Change the Should to Could and the Shame to Pride - Should Shaming

  • You could get hung up on being single in your thirties or be proud to have escaped that harmful relationship. You could be proud that you are your own person and don’t need to be in a couple to define yourself. You could be proud to be independent.
  • You could have children or be proud to make your own choices and proud to not give in to the pressure to procreate. You could choose not to contribute to the overpopulation of the world and be proud that you are taking steps towards a sustainable future.
  • You could save up and buy a house or be proud that you have the freedom to change location and don’t have all that debt and responsibility.
  • You could be ambitious and have a career plan or be proud to try new things and enjoy the journey instead of only thinking about the destination.

Be Proud to Try New Things and Enjoy the Journey - Should Shaming

  • You could stay in that  job you hate, or be proud to have the self-belief and freedom to make your own way in the world. There is more to life than having a company pension in 30 years’ time. You could wait until retirement to start enjoying your life, instead be proud to live in the moment.
  • You could starve yourself to be thin and impress other people, but instead be proud to love the body you’re in.
  • You could be ‘normal’ (whatever that is) but instead be proud to be different and to just be yourself

Just be…

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