This illness might be keeping you stuck (even if you're trying hard to make changes)

Yesterday, I met up with a friend who was annoyed to be attending a party on Saturday night.  When questioned, she simply didn’t want to go. “Simple” I said, “Don’t go!”

Not that simple. She feels strongly that she should attend the party, even though she’d prefer to spend time relaxing with her husband (who’s been travelling all week) as she’s exhausted from her own tough week at work. It was really worrying her. I struggled to empathise – which is not like me.

But, you see, I’d already battled with my own case of Shoulditis a few years ago and came out the other side.  I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.

Shoulditis: An illness where the individual feels compelled to do things that they don’t want to, often based on someone else’s recommendation.

You know how it goes:

  • I should get started on the 5:2 diet soon.

  • I should do a Marie Kondo style clear-out of the garage.

  • I should get up a 5am every day to meditate.

Yeh Yeh Yeh! It’s easy to ignore some shoulds.

Shoulditis - an illness where the individual feels compelled to do something they don’t want to - can impact both life and work satisfaction.

Shoulditis - an illness where the individual feels compelled to do something they don’t want to - can impact both life and work satisfaction.

It can also impact work and your career.

Career Shoulditis: An illness where the individual feels compelled to stay in a job/company/industry/career that they don’t want to, often based on someone else’s recommendation.

If you know someone who is not enjoying their work but appears to be burying their head in the sand, they might be suffering from a serious case of Career Shoulditis

Common quotes from Career Shoulditis sufferers:

They might be saying any of the following in their heads, and if you know them well (or throw enough alcohol down their throats), they may repeat them aloud:

  • I should stay as an accountant/doctor/lawyer because my parents were accountants/doctors/lawyers and it’s what they always wanted for me

  • I should stay as an accountant/doctor/lawyer because I’ve invested so much to get here (If this resonates, read my article on ignoring sunk costs)

  • I should stay because the market is tough and it’ll be hard to get another job that pays this much

  • I should stay until X happens, then I’ll think about what to do

  • I should stay - what would everyone think if I quit?

  • I should stay until I have an idea about my future and can plan it out to perfection

  • I should stay for as long as I can, even though I know the time is coming

  • I should stay because there’s too much going on in the rest of my life and at least its stable

  • I should stay until I get made redundant, then I’ll decide what to do

  • I should stay because I might never find another job

  • I should stay - if I don’t everyone will think I’m having a mid-life crisis

Since my own battle with career shoulditis, I’ve taken to saying “I don’t want to” a great deal especially when talking about my business and I see people actually physically recoiling as if I am behaving like a spoilt child!  

When I say out loud “I don’t want to do X”, people physically recoil as if I’m behaving like a spoilt child.

When I say out loud “I don’t want to do X”, people physically recoil as if I’m behaving like a spoilt child.

That phrase “I don’t want to do X” is considered culturally aggressive (in UK) so I find myself softening it but the result is the same.

I’ve chosen to have my own business because there are 1000s of things that I want to do but I can’t do them all so I need to make choices…to make informed decisions…not decisions based on someone else’s should.

I seek out and listen to advice from all sorts of people who are a bit further ahead of me in their business journey.  I hear such radical advice that it could rock my world if I thought I should do it all.  

Things I don’t want to do but others think I should do to grow my business:

(Let it be said, I reserve the right to change my mind with further research or compelling evidence.)

  • I should be politically correct in business

Should I?

I don’t want to tow the corporate line if the corporate line is a lie.   Big companies can say that their recruitment and promotional tactics are not ageist.  

I can now freely say things like “If you are in your 50s and still working for a big corporate – start planning your exit because your company is doing just that” as in my experience it’s true.  One of my most read articles was called 50-year old corporate toast!

The (often politically incorrect) truth is helpful.

  • I should accept every new client request so that I can make more money.

Should I?

I don’t want to work with everyone! I want to work with new clients if I feel they are prepared to commit the time, effort and energy it takes to think through their career from a completely different angle and make the required changes to design more satisfying work.

That’s why I created my free half hour telephone call where potential clients and I ask each other questions to understand if we have the same goals and expectations.

If we are not right for each other, I might know someone who is a better fit for them and they might know someone who is a better fit for me.  

  • I should invest in branding consultants, logo designers, social media teams, content writers, PR businesses, impressive offices etc to make me look uber successful.

Should I?

How would someone else know my personal definition of success?

If I had done these in the beginning, my business would have died within months and I’d have crumpled under the pressure of NEEDING to make a fortune just to cover monthly costs. I would have lost my freedom to work in a way that works for me. 

As it stands, I have a self-designed logo, do all my own social media marketing, write every word that I publish (including self-crafted spelling mistakes!), designed my own website and update it weekly to keep it fresh.  I work from my home office and very nice public locations. And I talk to journalists directly.

All wrong by someone else’s standards.

I love the freedom and control to mess up or be successful and to have them both be my fault.

  • I should pay fortunes for Facebook/Instagram ads, do live videos daily, fill my website with paid advertisements and pop-ups and design on-line webinars to grow my business.

Should I?

Every single one of these growth strategies would crush my enjoyment of creating and designing a business that works for me and gets me bounding out of bed each morning.  

I have decided upon a growth strategy that may be slightly slower but fits my personality, my superpowers, my deep interests in psychology and helping others to stop wasting time doing work that doesn’t make them happy.    

People tell me regularly that I should do things that everyone else is doing and that I shouldn’t be a “lone wolf”.

People tell me regularly that I should do things that everyone else is doing and that I shouldn’t be a “lone wolf”.

  • I should not be a “lone wolf”

Shouldn’t I?

One of the elements of having my own business which was so attractive is exactly the point that I would like to be what was called in my previous corporate career a “lone wolf”.  

When I was leading teams, each of them had at least one “lone wolf” who simply wasn’t a team player and it took a little extra management to get the most out of them.  In contrast, I’ve been a team player all my life, loved team sports, enjoyed pulling teams together towards a joint goal and contributing to team success.

Scary as it is, I have chosen to be “a lone wolf”.  This business will live or die based upon my efforts alone.  So, I want to make sure that when I make decisions to do or not to do something that it comes from me not someone else’s should.

  • My business philosophy should be “The more clients the merrier”

Should it?

When I was setting up my business, I chose not to sell e-cigarettes or sugar water because I want to sell stuff that I believe in.  I chose to sell something that can add to people’s lives but isn’t easy to sell in volume because of time, effort, cost and psychological change processes involved.

I want enough clients to sustain me and my family but I want choice on how and when to work with them.

Revenue is not my only goal.  

Even though my business has only been in existence for just over 2 years and it takes between 2 weeks and 6 months to go through my programmes, just under half of my business has come from personal recommendations.

I cannot tell you what a red letter day it is when I get an email from a potential client who has been recommended to me by another client.  Even though these new clients are “stuck” in their midlife careers in very different ways, they all arrive knowing what to expect with enough energy to contribute to the thinking and change processes.

So what impact could Shoulditis have on your career?

If we let it get under our skins and impact our decision-making, shoulditis can be a hellish illness that keeps us doing stuff that we don’t want to do. 

  • It can make us go to parties when we’d prefer to be snuggled up at home with our partner catching up on a gripping Netflix series over a bottle of wine and a Deliveroo.  

  • Shoulditis can also keep us stuck in jobs, companies or careers that simply don’t fit us any more. It can suffocate our future career possibilities and kill our potential to do work that really matters...to us!

What could you do instead?

Instead of considering “What should I do?”, maybe ask yourself “what do I really want to do?”

Now there’s a question...

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