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Taking the jump from ‘should’ to ‘could’

Fran Elliott

What we think about ourselves, specifically the quality and content of our thoughts, has a massive impact on our lives, whether that be personal relationships or career goals. You might not realise it, but even simple words can play a consequential role in the decisions we make. Contributor Article Fran Elliott, Head of Integrated Production – George P. Johnson

The word ‘should’ can act as a catalyst for limiting women in the workplace. Whether our beliefs around what we ‘should’ do are instilled from a young age or brought on by a former colleague or boss’ comments, this word, and the meaning we take from it, can have a major effect on how women operate within perceived guidelines. It can even cause them to build frameworks they didn’t know existed.

The markers are exactly what we’ve all come to expect.  “Should be at X position by X age. Should be making X amount of money.” With this thinking comes incapacity to ask questions, either because you feel unable to or because you don’t know who to ask or how to go about it. This second guessing needs to stop. Pondering based on speculation from previous, often negative experiences is of no use. 

What if we went from ‘should’ to ‘could’?
By swapping out a couple of letters, you move from the position of being at someone else’s behest to having personal agency. For women in the workplace, this shift can remove limiting beliefs and empower real change. 

Where does this come from?
Whether we realise it or not, most of us are shaped and moulded by the experiences we lived as a child. These limiting beliefs and ‘truths’ about life have shaped how we view the world and, in turn, how we view ourselves.

The term “I should” is always based on what other people have told us is true and what has been established in society at large: “boys shouldn’t cry”; “girls should wear pink.” ‘Should’ is a sense of obligation that we carry with us through learned behaviour, perceptions or triggers, the belief and values of other people around us, those that are still with us as a legacy that are no longer applicable to our lives. We use ‘should’ to sense-check against criteria that is simply no longer relevant.

The term ‘should’ can be a sense of social constraint (“Should I be doing this?”), cultural constraint or ideology. It affects young women specifically, as they have been given a very specific role in which to operate and exist. For example, women often ask questions that men never will. “Should I go back to work after having children?” being a prime example. When we ask, “Should I?”, what we’re really asking is, “Do I have permission?” In a practical sense, however, it means, “Do I have the courage to do this?” That’s a massive difference.

A small shift goes a long way
We often impose our own limiting beliefs upon ourselves. Asking whether “I should” tends to be based on whether you believe that you have the right to do something. It’s always based on other people; what you think they think and what you think they’ll say or do. 

If you take a moment to consider what matters to you and what matters to them, you’ll begin to see things differently. It simply depends on who’s perspective you’re looking at the term ‘should’ from. We’ve allowed other people’s opinions to become fact, instead of being just that – opinions. 

So how do we change this?
It starts with small steps. You ask yourself a question and the answer then determines where you go next. Once you’ve established this habit of thinking, the “Should I?” will become “What if I could?” Ask yourself, “Is this something that matters to me, or something I think should matter to me?”

Take workload as an example. Say you have a busy week at work and you’re wondering whether you should be stepping in to help a colleague. A part of you might feel it’s expected of you. Despite having your own workload, you feel you should help them with theirs, so you work extra hours each evening and end up feeling too tired to function.

Remember: “Is this something I want to do, or something I feel obligated to do?”; “Is this someone else’s obligation I’ve made my own?’ ‘Is it an old habit I cannot break away from?”

Perhaps you can indeed help during a very busy period. You’re happy to offer support, provided it doesn’t continue to impact your workload and become the norm. Now you’ve supported a colleague but haven’t allowed it to become the status quo. 

The importance of a mentor
It’s critical to have a thinking partner in-house – a mentoring programme where you have someone that can help you assimilate your thoughts, decipher how it makes you feel and determine what happens next.

It isn’t just about plugging in. You are not a commodity and therefore shouldn’t be commoditised. Nor should the work itself. In fact, that’s when you find yourself in the ‘should’ world. You’re no longer doing your own thinking but embracing other people’s beliefs, or even the idea of other people’s beliefs. 

Mentoring supports the individual in identifying what career progression they’re on. Mentors provide very clear and industry specific guidance and council. Meanwhile, coaching helps individuals process their own thinking within a framework that enables their own development. A mentor helps you determine the ‘where’ and a coach the ‘how’. It’s a highly effective and impactful combination.

The business impact
Moving from ‘should’ to ‘could’ can have a marked impact on your personal success and even wider business performance.

By adding resilience and empowerment to initiate and hold difficult conversations, you can start to lead healthier client relationships, too. This thinking enables you to lead the client and form a true partnership, doing away with these ancient, subservient client-agency relationships. Agencies that only do what the client tells them and nothing else are a thing of past. 

If you allow your staff to operate in a way that is in keeping with their values and beliefs, you can utilise all of that emotional intelligence to service clients in a much more effective and efficient way. For women in the workplace, conquering your own limiting beliefs will open up an entirely new framework from which you can view the world. Sometimes, a subtle shift is all it takes to make a massive difference. 

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