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Shoulds, Societal Norms, and Pressures

career direction tips Sep 23, 2022

I've been reflecting on external pressures I experienced earlier in my career:

"Danielle, you should go to grad school because you only have a bachelor's in social work."

"Danielle, now that you've graduated with your master's, you should get a job in your field."

In all honesty, a lot of these "shoulds" steered me in directions that did not serve me.

I rushed into a master's program that wasn't the right fit and when I left grad school, I did not know what I wanted to do because I didn't connect with my degree or training.

I applied to anything that sounded remotely interesting because I "should", and I’m embarrassed to admit that I crashed and burned every time I interviewed — I could not express where I envisioned my career because I did not know what I wanted.

I ended up taking the first position offered to me: a case manager coordinating Medicaid services for developmentally disabled adults.

And you know what happened?

I was terrible at my job! The position highlighted all my weaknesses, such as not being attentive to detail (which the job definitely required). I missed every deadline and the stack of paperwork on my desk kept piling higher.

While my self-esteem took a hit, this was a great learning experience for me because it helped me reflect on what I truly needed from my life and career, not what I "should" do.

I know I'm not the only person who has experienced self disconnection because of "shoulds," societal norms, and pressures. I see it happen all the time with my clients who pursued career paths that aren't a good fit because of external pressures.

What I had learned is that I had to put the pressures aside, to determine my wants and needs, and separate them from what others want for me.

My continuous doorway to self-connection is revisiting different aspects of my childhood to understand my patterns — where I thrive, what holds me back, and what motivates me deeply.

Reflecting on my childhood has allowed me to see the parts of me that external pressures have not influenced to be something or do something that I don't want.

By honoring the genuine parts of me that desires to be expressed in my work does not mean that I don't accomplish the societal "shoulds" such as making money, I'm just doing it in ways that bring me joy and meaning.

Ever since that first job out of graduate school, I've selected work experiences that honor my needs at the moment, and when a job no longer serves me, I reflect, identify what I want and need, and move forward.

Of all the "shoulds" in my life, the only one that I've learned is most important is that I should honor myself.

You've got this!


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