The Perils of Living in a Land of “Shoulds”

I work in a coworking space. Sometimes, people talk quietly in the coworking space, which can be distracting when I’m trying to get work done; I usually just put in my earbuds, listen to “spa music,” and forge ahead. But at other times, people speak really loudly in the coworking space, or even conduct group meetings in that space. 

They shouldn’t do that. 

There are conference rooms and phone rooms that people can use to conduct meetings or calls or do anything that might disturb the other coworkers or disrupt the relatively quiet, shared coworking space. Occasionally, if someone is being particularly loud, I will slip them a note and ask if they can please use a phone room or a conference room for their meetings. Usually, they will do so.

Sometimes, they won’t move.

Sometimes, they won’t move, and they will be hostile towards me for even asking.

That’s when my “shoulds” kick in:

  • They should move if they are going to be this loud.
  • They should be more considerate.
  • They should remember the guidelines that make this coworking space viable for everyone.
  • They should be less selfish and arrogant and just plain jerky.
  • They should be ashamed of themselves!
  • They should be kicked out of this coworking space and be forced to work in the middle of an elementary school cafeteria during lunchtime!

You see how it snowballs? 

“Shoulds” lead to a lot of my stress and anger:

  • My downstairs neighbor should turn down the volume on his music, especially when he is breaking the community’s rules.
  • That person should say thank you when I do a bunch of nice things for them.
  • That person should try harder to support my kid.
  • That vendor should have called me back.
  • That client should have more reasonable expectations.
  • I should be taller, and in better shape, and living on a tropical island, and a Powerball winner!

See how it snowballs?

Shifting from “Should” to “Accept”

I know that part of releasing my stress and anger and just plain disappointment circles back to the notion of Radical Acceptance. Initially described as part of Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, I first became acquainted with Radical Acceptance through one of my meditation teachers, Tara Brach. As described in this Psych Central article: 

Radical acceptance means practicing a conscious effort to acknowledge and honor difficult situations and emotions. Fully accepting things as they are, instead of ignoring, avoiding, or wishing the situation were different, can be a critical step in moving through a difficult experience to experiencing more meaning.

“Accept” does not mean “Approve”

Radical acceptance does NOT mean condoning or approving of all situations and behaviors. A person who has been abused, for example, does not practice radical acceptance by saying “It’s OK that I was abused.” It’s more about accepting that certain things simply are, and trying to wish them away is a path to (further) suffering. I suffer when I try to wish away circumstances that I don’t like, and it just causes me more stress or anxiety… which makes it even more difficult to deal with the situation I don’t like…

See how it snowballs? 

Shifting to “Accept” in the Workplace

How does this apply in a workplace, or in professional situations? 

It might be as simple as accepting that some people don’t run meetings the same way that I do, or have the same approach to writing, or view problems through the same lens.

I might get frustrated when a colleague or client does not give me some information or a work product that I need by the deadline we agreed to. I mean, we agreed to it! This person knows that the deadline is important! They know that it screws up my other work if I don’t get this information from them on time! So what the heck is the problem?! 

They may not see a broken agreement (the missed deadline) as a personal affront or a professional problem. They may not even see it as a broken agreement. It’s hard for me to really understand that way of thinking, but I can learn to accept that their way of thinking exists. Does that mean that I think it’s OK, or that I endorse squishy deadlines that make things more difficult for me and others? Nope. It means that I have to learn to accept the missed deadline without anger, and figure out the next steps (or, anticipate it and set up a backup plan in advance). If I can accept — instead of focusing on what the colleague “should” have done — I won’t be tied up in knots of anger and exasperation at the same time that I am trying to find a solution to the problem. 

Here’s my pledge: When I hear a “should” bubbling up inside me, I will recognize it, name it, and see if I can shift to “accept” mode. I suspect this will take A LOT of practice. Wish me luck, and feel free to hold me accountable!

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