The shame of should

A grad school classmate of mine and I were at dinner last week with another friend, Tricia, who had an undergraduate degree from UPenn.   Tricia mentioned that she’d recently attended an informal get together for women from her graduating class.  She’s been out of school just over twenty years.  “Shame” she offered in summary of the get together – immediately capturing our full attention.   “Many women weren’t doing anything because they were ashamed that they hadn’t done more since leaving school.”   I understood her remarks to mean that negative self judgment played an enormous role for many of these women.  It impacted their choices and their beliefs about success or failure because they hadn’t done what they ‘should’ have done.   Wow.  This discussion left me wondering, what role shame?  


Tricia’s remarks catapulted me back to the earliest days of my own transition.  For those unfamiliar with my background I found myself in transition after nearly twenty-five years running at a fast-paced always-on career.   Six days a week, constant travel.  I loved every minute of it.  I deferred a family until late, having two children within sixteen months of each other right around my 40th b-day.

I slowly realized the sheer impossibility of parenting the way I desired and of working at the level and pace I loved.  Within six years of welcoming my two children it all unraveled.

I remember being ashamed of not being able to figure it out.   One friend summarized it perfectly shortly after my transition began, “you of all people.”  Had I failed?  If so, at what?

Shame wasn’t the only sentiment present for me then.  I felt guilty for not working 60+ hours per week.  I felt isolated.  Alone.

Thankfully there was another powerful sentiment present for me – possibility.  I was certain that there was something more for me.  I had no idea what – but the mere presence of such a belief was enough to keep me going.

In hindsight I realize that I did something else in response to this moment that benefited me greatly.    I reached outward.   I talked to other women.  Many many women of varying ages and circumstances.

Everywhere I went women spoke of something unresolved for them.  It wasn’t unanimous but it was nearly so.  Some worked part time trying to keep many demands aligned;  others offered mild apology for the decision to stay home; or others sought something new that might engage them more fully.  Regardless of their personal circumstances I heard it.  Something. But what?

I wish I had been at the event with my new friend from UPenn.  If  I had I would have talked about what I’ve learned about transition and the impact of ‘should’ on our voices.  ‘Shoulds’ all around us silently work on curtailing the strength and clarity of our voice.  Our truth. Our spirit.

Transition compels us to explore our voice.  To dignify it – regardless of how well it aligns with what we ‘should’ do.

If you find yourself facing a gap between ‘should’ and what you know you could do, take a moment to be mindful of the distance.  My guess is the only shame present at that moment will be focused on the amount of lapsed time spent not realizing the gap existed.

***Please take a moment to visit my book’s Facebook page.  Please Like it and share it with your networks.  Additional resources for transitioning will be posted and announced there.  Many, many thanks, Linda ***

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