Whose rules are you following?
The word ‘should’. On the surface a seemingly innocent word, a word we often use and a word which can be terrifically important when trying to understand the origin of a midlife crisis. This is because the word ‘should’ implies a rule. A rule that ‘should’ have been followed. I see it in the therapy room with my clients… I ‘should’ be happy, everything is going well. I ‘should’ be over that by now. I ‘should’ be higher up the corporate ladder than I am.
So I ask you to consider….whose rules are you following? Are they yours?
Here’s an example. Recently one of my therapy clients felt they ‘should’ be in a more professional job. Being a part-time property developer (despite it being very lucrative and giving her great enjoyment) just didn’t seem enough. She felt like she was underperforming, or not professional enough to be exact. ‘I should be working harder’ she said.
I ‘should’ be in a more white collar full-time profession, such as being a doctor where I can give back. So I asked her.. ’Whose rule is that, because actually you enjoy working part time as it gives you time with your kids?’ Immediately she said ‘my father’s’. Her father had been a shop steward, a blue collar worker who wanted more for his children. Once we had established this ‘full-time professional’ rule belonged to someone else she was able to come to terms with her job and take pride in it and recognize that the flexibility it gave her meant she could be home at tea time with her children – something she really valued.
I remember a psychology colleague saying to me once that most clients are walking in shoes which are too small for them. By this he meant that so many people are stagnated in life by trying to follow the values and ambitions of authority figures which we have taken in (or to use a therapy term, introjected) when we were little.
At midlife, it’s time to challenge the rules by which we live our life, challenge our introjects, question our values, morals, hopes and ambitions and make sure they belong to us. Ultimately by doing this we can set ourselves free and welcome contentment, happiness and a lack of compromise into our lives. Oh yeah, and shoes that fit!