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  • Tom Goldstein

Chasing Authenticity: Breaking Free from the 'Should' Trap

In our busy, modern world, we're often unconsciously pulled in two directions: doing what people expect of us and doing what we truly desire to do. This tug-of-war can shape our jobs, how we see ourselves, and the story of our lives. But what if we took a moment to really think about this? What if we figured out the difference between what others say we should do and what we really want? Dive in as we explore this challenge and discover the joy of truly following our hearts in work and in life.

Differentiating between what you "should" do and what you genuinely want to do is important for several reasons:

  1. Enhanced Well-being: Aligning with our truth can lead to improved mental and emotional health. We might experience less anxiety, stress, or depression caused by constantly trying to meet external expectations.

  2. Fulfilling Relationships: Authenticity can draw people towards us who value our genuine selves, leading to deeper, more meaningful connections. On the flip side, relationships based on pretence or fulfilling someone else's standards may fall away, leaving space for genuine bonds.

  3. Personal Growth: Living from our truth often means confronting fears, challenging societal norms, and stepping out of our comfort zones. This journey can catalyse significant personal growth and self-discovery.

  4. Increased Passion: By pursuing what truly resonates with us, we can find greater enthusiasm and passion in our endeavours, whether they're hobbies, careers, or other pursuits.

  5. Authentic Career Choices: Instead of choosing a profession based on societal expectations or familial pressure, we might find ourselves in roles that genuinely align with our skills, passions, and values, leading to higher job satisfaction.

  6. Better Decision Making: Living by our truth equips us to make decisions based on our core values and desires, leading to choices that genuinely resonate with who we are.

  7. Greater Sense of Purpose: When we align with our genuine desires, we often find a deeper sense of purpose and direction in life, as opposed to floating aimlessly or following a path set by others.

  8. Joy and Contentment: Authentic living often results in moments of pure joy and contentment, stemming from the knowledge that we're being true to ourselves.

  9. Resilience: When we know and trust ourselves, we become more resilient in the face of adversity. Challenges become opportunities to reaffirm our truths, rather than crises that shake our foundations.

  10. Evolved Sense of Self: Over time, as we shed the layers of external expectations, our sense of identity becomes clearer. We come to understand and appreciate ourselves more, fostering self-love and self-acceptance.

In essence, differentiating between the two is a journey of self-discovery and authenticity. While there's a place for duty and responsibility in life, striking a balance with one's own desires is crucial for a holistic, happy, and meaningful life.

In our pursuit of societal acceptance and belonging, many of us find ourselves conforming to external expectations. The fear of judgement or ostracisation is a powerful motivator, steering us towards pathways deemed "acceptable" by societal standards. After all, humans are inherently social creatures, and the need for community acceptance is deeply ingrained. This drive for belonging can sometimes outweigh our own internal compass, especially when we perceive the risk of standing out as too great.

From childhood, many of us are conditioned to prioritise the values and beliefs of our families, educational institutions, and broader communities. These external expectations, instilled at a young age, can become so deeply rooted that, over time, they might be mistaken for our own beliefs. Furthermore, as we mature, the fear of failure that comes with treading an uncharted path can be daunting. Many opt for the perceived safety of convention, preferring to mitigate risks associated with pursuing our own true desires.

Economic realities and practical constraints also factor into this equation. Even with a clear understanding of one's authentic desires, financial necessities or other tangible barriers might make pursuing these desires seem like an insurmountable challenge. Additionally, the cultural and societal structures we navigate exert their influence, with established norms and values subtly pressuring us to conform.

Interestingly, our very biology might contribute to this inclination. Evolutionarily speaking, standing out or defying the group could have resulted in exclusion, which in ancient times could equate to reduced survival chances. While modern society has evolved, some remnants of this evolutionary past might still influence our decision-making processes.

In essence, the journey towards authenticity in the face of "shoulds" is a multifaceted interplay of individual psychology, societal influences, and ancestral instincts. Recognising these forces is the initial step towards living a life more attuned to one's authentic desires.

In order to start the work of taking back our own power, the following are some guidelines to start to explore the separation between should and want:

1. Understanding Energy and Passion:

  • Energy: Reflect on activities, tasks, or pursuits that invigorate you. If after doing something you feel more energised than when you started, that's a clue that you're in alignment with a true desire or passion. Conversely, if an activity leaves you feeling drained, you might be acting out of obligation.

  • Passion: Passion is often a deeper, sustained interest or enthusiasm about something. Think about activities, topics, or hobbies you could talk about or engage in for hours without feeling bored. These are likely aligned with what you truly want to do.

2. External Expectations:

  • Societal Expectations: Society, culture, and even our immediate community often have set standards for what they believe we "should" do. This can be in terms of career, relationships, hobbies, or lifestyle choices. It's crucial to differentiate between what society expects and what you genuinely want. One way to do this is to ask yourself: "Would I still want to do this if nobody was watching or judging?"

  • Work Expectations: Most workplaces have clear expectations regarding performance, behaviour, and goals. While it's essential to meet these to succeed professionally, remember to balance them with your well-being and personal desires. If you constantly find yourself doing things purely to please your boss or colleagues, it might be worth reassessing your work choices and environment.

  • Social Groups: Friends and family often have expectations, spoken or unspoken. While it's lovely to make loved ones happy, it shouldn't come at the expense of your own happiness or well-being. Check in with yourself and ensure you're not solely living to please others.

3. Strategies to Differentiate:

  • Reflection: Regularly take time out to reflect on your choices, feelings, and desires. Journaling can be an effective tool.

  • Feedback: Talk to trusted individuals about your feelings and choices. They might offer a different perspective that can help clarify things.

  • Experimentation: Occasionally, take risks or make choices that prioritise your desires over expectations. It's a way of testing waters and understanding what truly resonates with you.

  • Set Boundaries: Learn to say "no" when something doesn't align with your authentic self, even if it's something you feel you "should" do.

4. Balancing Act:

  • It's also worth noting that life often requires a balance. There will be times when you need to do things out of obligation or necessity. But by regularly checking in with yourself, understanding what gives you energy, and where your passions lie, you can strive for a balance that leans towards a life filled with choices that resonate with your true self.

In this intricate dance between societal "shoulds" and our authentic desires, each one of us holds the power to choose the rhythm to which we move. It's essential to remember that while external influences abound, the ultimate authority over our decisions and life path resides within us.

As you reflect on your own experiences and journey, it becomes evident that authenticity is not just a fleeting trend but a cornerstone of a fulfilling life. And so, I challenge each of you: Take a moment this week to introspect. Peel back the layers of external expectations and tune into that inner voice. What is it saying? And more importantly, are you ready to listen?

Call to Action: Join the conversation in the comments and share your experiences of navigating the "shoulds" in your life. Let's create a community of support, helping each other move closer to our genuine desires. Remember, every step towards authenticity is a step towards a more fulfilled life. Let's embark on this journey together.


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