How “Should” May be Ruining Your Career (And Your Life)

Lisa Plain (Petkovsek)Blog

“I know this is what I should be doing but I’m miserable”.

As a career coach, this sentence is a heart breaker. As soon as I hear the word “should” it sets off alarm bells that signal that my client is stuck in a place between what they want vs. what they believe to be right.

The definition of “should” from the oxford dictionary is:

“Used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions used to indicate what is probable.”

Obligation. Duty. Correctness. Criticizing! Do these sound like words that lead to happiness? How about probable? Still not making you feel that fire?

Many of us have an idea in our heads of what our lives should look like. Maybe it’s a prestigious office job in the city, or a career following in a family member’s footsteps. Maybe it’s marriage and kids and a house in the suburbs. Whatever it is, this obligation or duty is coming from an external source. It’s natural to want to make our families proud, to want to be seen as successful, to progress up the chain of command, but be wary of how much emphasis you’re placing on these things. We are all unique with different values, likes, and different ideas of what success truly is.

Let’s look at an example of how external vs internal influences affect decision making.

In both of these scenarios you take the job, but your reasoning differs.

  1. You take it because you know you should. It’s a “good” job and the logical next step based on your schooling and experience, plus it’s a raise. Your family is proud and you feel excited about it for the first few months (the honeymoon phase) but then find yourself dreading Mondays again. The salary increase now doesn’t seem as great and you’re wondering why you can never be happy.
  2. You take the job because you’re passionate about managing people and you believe in the company. Your long-term plan includes becoming the CFO and you know that having experience in this role will make you a better leader. You are a top performer and your colleagues are eager to work with you.

Do you notice a difference? Which one would you rather be? If you’re struggling to find happiness in your career or your life right now there are a few steps you can take to get back on track:

  • Notice where your “shoulds” lie. Have you taken jobs because you knew it was logical? Are you in a subpar relationship because you’re 29 and it’s expected? Reflect on your most recent decisions or actions and consider whether the driver is obligation or passion.
  • Take some time to define success in your own terms. Actually write it down in a few sentences. What does it look like, feel like, sound like? If it’s different from the norm, trust yourself and know that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to happiness.
  • Reconnect with your personal values and let those guide your future decisions. If you value collaboration, don’t take a job where you’re working mostly solo. If you value flexibility, don’t take a job that has you working 10-12 hours per day in an office.

Remember, happiness comes from within and it’s up to you to define what that looks like. You have the power and the ability to change your future!


Career Balance Coaching has been helping corporate professionals find career happiness since 2018.

You can learn more here.


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