Get All Access for $5/mo

Are You 'Should-ing' All Over Your Career? Talking yourself out of pursuing your dream is not the same as being prudent.

By Lida Citroën Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I'd be a very rich woman if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone lament:

"I should take the job. It's the responsible thing to do."

"I should stay with what's safe. Starting a business is too risky."

"I should hold out for a better job. I deserve to have companies fight over me."

What a powerful, limiting and sometimes hurtful word "should" has become! For many professionals, "shoulds" are limiting opportunities, relationships, choices, confidence and careers. We impose self-limiting language and beliefs over our abilities ("I should be able to play golf because I've taken lessons!"), our choices ("Recruiters should be looking for me, why should I have to search them out?"), our relationships ("I should be happy in my relationship. I married the "perfect' man.") and our future ("It could be worse. I should be happy.").

Related: 9 Ways to Show More Confidence in Business

When I hear negative self-talk creep into my own narrative, I remind myself:

I can control the tapes that play in my head

There is not, in fact, a little person in my brain or on my shoulder reciting this negative self-talk to me. I have the choice to let myself be limited by the beliefs I accept about my choices, opportunities and where I want to take my life and career. I can choose what I should do or I can do what I believe is in my best interest, based on my values, situation and goals.

I can evaluate my opportunities through a new filter

I choose to make decisions based on criteria that allows me to represent myself with dignity, integrity and authenticity. These filters empower me to make clear and focused choices and build my personal brand.

What someone told me I should do is outdated, wrong or misguided

I still have tapes that play of things my father told me when coaching me on college entrance interviews. That information is hardly relevant for me today, many years and experiences later.

A colleague says, "I still hear the voice of my boss who said, "You should be quiet in meetings. No one wants to hear a woman babble.' To this day, I'm hesitant to speak up in meetings."

A Navy veteran I worked with shared, "I am a decorated SEAL. I should do something important after I leave the military. I can't just go and start my own consulting company, which is what I'd love to do."

Related: 5 Simple Steps to Be a Super-Confident Leader

I might be should-ing on my career success

Should often gets mixed into our definition of success. When I started LIDA360, I had a big question. Did I want to build a company that defines achievement and impact the way I'd learned success should look – money, power, status, and "things" – or could I redefine my success to be more about personal fulfillment, having a positive and meaningful influence on others and living my purpose?

Who wrote the book on what your career should look like: your coach, mentor, parent, professor, sibling, spouse or commanding officer? That's giving them power over your future when they don't walk in your shoes. Instead, make choices based on what you believe you can do and want to do.

Here are questions to ask yourself when should creeps in:

  • Am I making choices because I believe they are in my best interest given my situation, values,and goals?
  • Am I sabotaging my future because of mistakes not learned in the past?
  • Am I representing myself with integrity and authenticity?
  • What would happen if I ignore the shoulds?
  • Is my self-talk hurting me and my career?
  • How do I want to be remembered? My ultimate reputation and legacy is the story I am writing today. Taking control over that legacy means I take full responsibility for my actions and behavior.

For me, leaving corporate America in 2008 was a direct refusal to accept all the "shoulds" in my life and commit to what what I believed is right for me. As entrepreneurs, I'm sure many of you will agree that often what you should do is follow your passion, vision and heart.

Related: Lessons from Seth Godin on Embracing Uncertainty

Lida Citroën

Reputation management and personal branding expert

Lida Citroën is an executive personal branding and reputation management specialist, a TEDx and keynote speaker, instructor on LinkedIn Learning and consultant working with global business leaders and military veterans to enhance their position and reputation in strategic markets.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


Are Your Business's Local Listings Accurate and Up-to-Date? Here Are the Consequences You Could Face If Not.

Why accurate local listings are crucial for business success — and how to avoid the pitfalls of outdated information.

Money & Finance

Day Traders Often Ignore This One Topic At Their Peril

Boring things — like taxes — can sometimes be highly profitable.


Want to Be More Productive Than Ever? Treat Your Personal Life Like a Work Project.

It pays to emphasize efficiency and efficacy when managing personal time.

Business News

'Passing By Wide Margins': Elon Musk Celebrates His 'Guaranteed Win' of the Highest Pay Package in U.S. Corporate History

Musk's Tesla pay package is almost 140 times higher than the annual pay of other high-performing CEOs.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Starting a Business

I Left the Corporate World to Start a Chicken Coop Business — Here Are 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Board meetings were traded for barnyards as a thriving new venture hatched.