Letting Go of "Should"
This piece was originally published on the ZGiRLS website on January 8th, 2015.
Three years and thousands of dollars… Sometimes I cringe when I look back on the time and money that I spent on finishing law school; on chasing down “should.”
I don’t recommend going to law school to “find yourself.” There are definitely faster and much less expensive ways to do that. For me, however, I’m pretty convinced that, out of all paths I could have possibly chosen after my ski racing career, law school may have been the only thing that could push me so far to the brink, made me so profoundly unhappy, that I had no choice but to dive deeper than ever into the question so many of us continue to ask well into adulthood: what do I want to be when I grow up?
If I’m totally honest, I chose to go to law school primarily because I thought that I should. I should follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a lawyer. I should pursue a more intellectual career after ending my athletic one. I should select a career path that would provide my (eventual) kids the kind of childhood I was so lucky to have.
Most of us understand that we should avoid making life choices based on “should’s;” on other people’s expectations, or how much money we’ll earn. But completely divorcing oneself from “should” is complicated. Letting go of “should” usually involves honest self-reflection, uncomfortable decisions, and sometimes feeling like we’re disappointing the very people we care most about. Or, at least, that’s what it involved for me.
I always wanted to believe Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Likewise, Alan Watts’ advice has stuck with me for years: “Do what you love, and eventually you will become a master at it…and you will be able to earn a good fee for it.” I’ve always found these perspectives to be incredibly inspiring, but I honestly did not believe that they possibly could apply to ME.
About a year into law school, I sat down and began to consider… If my “perfect life” were a recipe, what ingredients would it include? I still have the list. I wasn’t sure whether that recipe would ever be feasible, but I knew that I wanted my life’s recipe to have as many of those ingredients as possible. At the time, it was just a piece of paper, but I figured it was a start.
Over the years, I’ve learned to observe a person’s tone of voice and body language in order to understand them on a level beyond the words that they say. Usually, when a person is excited about something, there’s a swing in their voice and an energy comes alive in their eyes. The body actually sends a lot of useful signals, we just rarely notice them.
Halfway through law school, I began turning this careful observation onto myself. When I finally began to notice the signals my body (my soul?) were sending to me, it quickly became clear: I would not become a lawyer. Every time I sat down to do legal research, by body became heavy. Every time I talked to a lawyer about their job, my eyes felt dead.
So I began to more seriously consider: What makes me tick? What makes me happy? I reflected and I listened for more signals. And, sure enough, the answers were all there. Every time I thought about ZGiRLS (at that time, a small program I’d started as an avenue to give back), I felt a fire in my belly. Every time I talked to entrepreneurs, my body buzzed with electric energy. I recognized that ZGiRLS made me feel alive in ways I hadn’t felt since flying down a mountainside at 80 mph.
But, I hesitated. I doubted. Watts’ promise couldn’t be right, I thought. Just because I loved it, didn’t mean I could make a living out of it.
Months passed, and with time, courage finally began to swell. Support from friends and family helped me feel more comfortable with the risk of abandoning a legal career to pursue ZGiRLS full-time. I found confidence in my own strengths. I reminded myself that the vision and perseverance I employed as a professional athlete, translated to being an entrepreneur. I had what it takes. I had to take the leap, and I had to trust that it would work.
Almost three years later, ZGiRLS is thriving and I am pursuing my passion. Letting go of “should” has uncorked more joy and possibility than I ever could have imagined. I am genuinely humbled by the number of amazing “ingredients” I’ve managed to fit into my current recipe for life.
Yet, during this time of year when so many of us are considering our goals and resolutions, I am reminded how easy it is to get caught up in what we think we “should” do; what kind of goals we should set.
If there’s one thing I took away from those three years and thousands of dollars, it’s this: connect with what you genuinely desire. Or, as Watts says, connect with “what makes you itch.” Get rid of “should” and make room for the intelligence of your own intuition. Tap into passion and purpose. Believe that you have what it takes (because you do) and trust that, when you take the leap, it will work out.
Somehow I managed to crawl out from underneath “should,” and in doing so, I found my heart’s calling. I’ve come alive.
And what the world needs, is more people who have come alive.