What I learnt this week: I’m banning the word ‘Should’, and you must too!

A weekly reflection of what I have learnt this week as a Digital Product Designer

Liz Hamburger
Oct 12, 2019 · 7 min read
The word should in pink bold letters, crossed out in a white line
The word should in pink bold letters, crossed out in a white line

This week the conversation about the latest season of Abstract on Netflix came up. If you’ve not heard of Abstract, it is a Netflix series now in its second season which looks at inspiring and interesting people in the creative industry. This season they look at Ian Spalter who is Head of Instagram Japan and works as a Digital Product Designer.

As a Digital Product Designer myself, I wanted to watch this episode to see how Netflix planned to explain this sometimes complex job role to the masses. Most of the time when I'm explaining my job and what I do day to day I end up saying that I'm a graphic designer — and to be honest, this just isn’t true anymore. I may tend to lean into this profession as it was what I studied at university but also because it’s a term most seem to be familiar with.

Though this is an inspiring episode that shows us how great Ian’s career and work is, it can’t be helped that upon viewing this episode, the sparks of feeling inadequate as a Digital Product Designer start. During the closing credits thoughts like:

  • ‘I should be working on a side project’
  • ‘I should be a lead designer by now’
  • ‘I should look for a new role’
  • ‘I should be working at a cool start-up company’
  • ‘I should be doing public talks’
  • ‘I should be doing more...’

Why Should makes us feel bad

And this is when I realised — I’m a serial Should-er. I use the word Should a hell of a lot, whether that’s in reference to myself and what I think I should be doing or when I offer advice to other people in my team. Though this word is meant to be a way of keeping ourselves focused or motivated it usually creates feelings of guilt and inability.

When looking at the definition of the word Should, it is used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticising someone’s actions. When we specifically look at the criticising aspect, the word Should becomes a word that suggests we are lacking or that we are failing to do something that we are obliged to. When I look back at how I use the word, there are only a few instances where the word Should can be used without the negative implications, such as ‘I should go to bed’ or ‘I should clean my teeth’ the usage of Should here are important because these activities are part of basic our needs and detrimental if we don't do them.

When we say we Should do more, though we may be meaning well it actually doesn’t help us do more. Instead, it creates a feeling that we aren’t doing enough. A better way for us to frame our statements or advice would be to say, I Could do more. By changing the word we then Could we change our perspective to one which is of ability and choice, where Should doesn’t feel like a word that has us in control. For example;

  • ‘I could be working on a side project’
  • ‘I could be a lead designer by now’
  • ‘I could look for a new role’

This these phrases now sound much more positive and from a place of opportunity than when they had the word Should in them.

When we commit ourselves to activities like doing a side project because we feel like we Should, we without a doubt will fail, and ultimately feel worse than we did in the first place. It’s like starting a new fitness regime, you go to the gym because you feel that you Should and within a month you give up because you hated the process and didn’t enjoy it. When you try to do something because you should not because you really want to, you’re always going to be battling resistance and if we keep having to fight resistance we get burnt out — It’s an exhausting battle which we can never really win.

Though just changing the word Should to Could there are plenty of other ways to combat the feeling that you aren’t doing enough in the first place.

1. Stop looking at what others are doing

We can and do look to others who work in our industry to gauge where we're at in our careers and skill level which can be helpful, but generally, this behaviour can be really damaging. Comparison is a killer. If you're looking at others work or career so far and it's making you feel bad about yourself then stop looking at those people! We know how toxic Instagram and other social media can become as there has been a rise in the ‘compare and despair’ attitude where we feel that we are constantly playing catch up.

When you compare yourself to other people on social media, think about how many of those people are honestly sharing their life or work? I can without a doubt guarantee that hardly anyone is sharing their life with the lows included. Many are just focusing on and sharing what they are good at.

A simple way to put a stop to this is by readjusting our focus and only looking at people who make us feel good or who truely inspire us without us questioning our own ability. Spending more time around those who make us feel good is a far better use of time, than looking at those who we consider being better than us and beating ourselves up about it.

2. Get to know why you feel this way

A lot of the time when we start to feel inadequacy or guilt we can quickly spiral into a length negative thought pattern. Especially when we feel like we Should be doing more we start focusing on all the things. This is when it’s really important for us to stop, pause and ask ourselves why we feel this way. We spend lot of time on autopilot, and we sometimes don’t recognise how we end up feeling the way we do in certain situations.

The next time you say to yourself, ‘I Should…’ stop and really ask yourself why you think that. Write down the question and your initial answer, then if you can ask yourself why again to try and get to the root of why you’re feeling that way.

You can even ask yourself ‘What about this bothers me so much?’ By asking this question instead it forces us to be analytical and pick apart the situation and hopefully understand why we think or feel this way. Most of the time the root cause won’t be about what you thought it was. For example, your Should won't be from thinking about doing a side project, but maybe it is about feeling like you lack value or recognition for your work, or perhaps you might feel that your work isn’t exciting enough.

3. Focus on what you ARE doing

When we use the word Should we are not looking at ourselves as we currently are, we picture ourselves as to how we want to be. In the book, What to Say When You Talk To Yourself, Dr. Shad Helmstetter explains that all we are doing is reinforcing what we are not doing. But how often do we stop and look at what we are doing? Some people may only look briefly what they are doing well when they are updating a CV or during a job interview where you talk about your strengths but that might be it, which unfortunately isn’t enough if we want to feel better about ourselves.

Focusing on what you're good at and what you enjoy is integral to feeling happier about your ability. So look at what you're doing well, literally get a pen and piece of A4 paper and write it all down. Get really into the detail and list it all out. You could write about your work and your personality, focus in on what you have some kind of control over then move onto what else is going well in your life and what you are thankful for. Things like your friends, family, your health. Once you have done this hold on to this piece of paper and keep it in a safe place for times when you feel like you Should doing something or more, look at this wonderfully long list of all the things you are already doing amazingly well. Ask yourself, do you really need to do more.

There’s a lot of value in doing less. As designers, we know that less is more. So why don’t we apply this to our careers as well as our lives? We know that quantity isn’t as good as quality. So let’s not force ourselves to be people were not. Let’s not force ourselves to have multiple side projects just because we see other people doing it. Remember, no one is perfect. No one has it all figured out, and of course, we can try to do it all and more but ultimately we can’t.

A special thanks to mpinney for inspiring me to write about this subject matter.

What do you think about the word Should? How do you combat the feeling of not doing enough? Get in touch and let me know in the comments! Or you can find me on Twitter as @lizhamburger


What Liz Learnt

A collection of weekly reflections of what I have learnt…

Liz Hamburger

Written by

Writing about design and some other bits in between | Digital Product Designer at Inktrap | Event organiser for Triangirls.

What Liz Learnt

A collection of weekly reflections of what I have learnt this week as a Digital Product Designer

Liz Hamburger

Written by

Writing about design and some other bits in between | Digital Product Designer at Inktrap | Event organiser for Triangirls.

What Liz Learnt

A collection of weekly reflections of what I have learnt this week as a Digital Product Designer

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