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Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about what they should do when it comes to their career. Sometimes it’s regret, “I should be a communications director by now.” And sometimes it’s when trying to make a decision, “I should just take this job because it will look good on my resume.” Even when the job isn’t in line with your career goals. And sometimes it’s hindsight, “I should have gone back to school for an MBA.”

Woman slapping her forehead.

It’s what psychologist and therapist Dr. Albert Ellis called “shoulding” on yourself, and, well — you really shouldn’t do it if you want to be intentional in your career.

Here’s why: Every time you say you should or shouldn’t have done something, you’re likely beating yourself up or feeling guilty about what you haven’t achieved. You may be feeling like some expectation hasn’t been met.

But let me ask: In whose eyes? Nine times out of 10, the “shoulding” people do to themselves is based on some idea they have about how other people see them — an idea that may not have anything to do with reality. Who gets a say in the direction your career should go? Only you have the answer.

No matter how you are “shoulding” on yourself, here are a few ideas you can try to look toward the career you really want.

  • Honor ALL your experience — Everything you’ve done so far has made you who you are. Whether you’ve made a few random choices that don’t flow easily on a resume, or you’re new to your field, you bring something different to the table than anyone else. Know what those skills and experiences are that make you special and build on them.
  • Stand by your career choices — That doesn’t mean you have to stay in a bad job or tolerate a toxic work environment. It just means that even the worst jobs can teach you something. Maybe you find out that the dream company you wanted to work for is actually your nightmare. Or maybe you pass on an amazing offer because you just accepted another position that ends up not working out. Sure, you could spend lots of time and energy feeling bad about the job you don’t have, but how does that help you? Instead, focus that time and energy on preparing for your next awesome role.
  • Do the work: When people say they should be in a certain role or they should have achieved a certain level of success, what I hear is that they are putting too much stock in some outside voice (that they may have invented) about what success looks like. It’s like a little kid playing dress up in a grownup’s closet. If you’ve ever tried to put on a pair of shoes that is five sizes too big, you know what I mean. Especially if they were heels, but I digress. The shoes don’t fit because they’re someone else’s. It’s the same with your career. You’re probably going to find yourself in a bad fit if you try to follow someone else’s idea of a successful career path. It might feel like you are relieved of the responsibility for thinking about your own wants and needs. In the end, though, you still only have yourself to blame if you follow someone else’s path. Instead, do the work to create your own vision of success and go after it.