The Joy of Living Without “Shoulds” and “Shouldn’ts”


by Caroline Courey

Did you know that two top regrets of 80+-year-olds are ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me ‘ and ‘I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings’ (from a 2011 blog by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware).

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Take a breath right now and think about your life. Anything ring a bell?

It’s easy to get caught up in shoulds and shouldn’ts. They helped protect and navigate us through our childhood. Problems happen when these ideas become self-imposed habits or knee-jerk reactions to our challenges. Rather than ask ‘What do I want,’ we ask ‘What’s expected of me?’ or, ‘What should I do that keeps the peace, makes sense or pleases my mother, boss, spouse…?’

In a world of uncertainty, one thing’s for sure—expectation sets us up for disappointment at least half of the time. No one can control everything in life. For example, John Jr. chose to fulfill his mother’s dream of becoming an MD but it meant abandoning his dream of being a writer. Today he struggles with regret and resentment and it’s not just about his career! Lines get blurred when feelings are left on the back shelf.

It takes courage to look inward and get to know ourselves from the inside out. That’s how we learn to accept what is going on in our thoughts, emotions and our body. That’s what it means to live in the moment. We find clarity about who we are and what we want so we can move forward rather than staying stuck in shoulds and shouldn’t’s.

Had Johnny Jr. acknowledged his fear of disappointing his mother and value his needs, he might have expressed his feelings in a way that would have freed him to be true to himself.


Happiness is a choice.


Imagine getting past a fear of ‘what if’ to pursue a path that brings you joy and fulfillment. Wouldn’t those who truly matter in your life be happy about it too?


Caroline Courey is a personal life coach in Hudson helping people create deep and lasting change for a more fulfilling life.
She’s been an MS warrior since 1992 and author of Crossed Signals a novel for families, schools and health professionals to
facilitate clear, honest communications within families around the challenging issues of living with MS.
Caroline is a mother of four and co-founder of Quiet Mind Mindful Reflection workshops with her husband.
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