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At a Career Crossroads? Don’t Let ‘Should’ Dictate Your Career

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a burning question: when are going to stop shoulding all over ourselves?
career crossroads
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Hear me out.  The truth is, I’ve lost a lot of life and productivity to the word “should,” especially at work. And I’m sure if you think about it, you probably have, too. Should I take this job? Should I bring up a raise to my boss again? Should I mention these problems in my annual review? Should I be spending so much of my time on this task? Should I let my coworkers into my personal life? Should I take a pay cut for this position?

See, here’s the thing about should: the word “should” inherently suggests that we aren’t in control of our own choices, or responsible for our own success. It implies that we’re asking someone else for the permission to make a choice, or for the reassurance to deal with its consequences afterward. It’s no secret that stewing over a tough decision feels a lot like a running on hamster wheel, and research show that too much deliberation can actually lead to more insecurity than when you began considering the choice in the first place.

When you reach a career crossroads, it's time to stop saying 'should' and start planning ahead. Click To Tweet

But there’s even more to it than that. Spending time worrying about what we should do often keeps us from doing much of anything — especially when the questions we’re asking are too lofty. What should I do with my life? Should I be making more money than this? Should I be at a higher work level? Should I leave for an environment with more resources? These questions are often too nebulous to be effective, and asking them likely isn’t going to get us any closer to a feeling of resolution or empowerment. If anything, “should” makes us more insecure.

Think of Possibilities, Not Obligations

Instead, why don’t we take “should” and turn it on its head? And when I search for the antidote to the professional quicksand that is should, the best thing that comes to mind seems to be “can” or “will.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Can I bring up getting a raise at my review? Will I be at a higher work level? Can I be making more money than this? Will I leave this environment for some place more promising? I like “can” and “will,” because they suggest an element of empowerment, instead of insecurity. “Will I ask for a raise? suddenly becomes a personal challenge, just as, “Can I be doing better work?” becomes a challenge to figure out how to execute.

The next time you find yourself pondering these sort of vague, endless professional questions, try to tap into the validation you’re really looking for. If it’s reassurance about your salary, dig into PayScale’s salary data to make sure you’re making what you’re worth. If you’re uncertain that your current gig is where you need to be, put out some feelers for new opportunities, land yourself an offer, then see how your employer responds. And don’t forget this: if something feels off, it usually is off. You don’t need a professional magic 8-ball, or a slew of should-y questions, to tell you that.

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Megan Shepherd
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