I should work my way up the career ladder.
I should have a higher salary.
I should pursue a practical career.
I should be more productive.
I should stay in my career; transitioning is too risky.

At Canada Career Counselling, I often hear clients say these statements or some other variation of “I should…”. If you are doing the same you may be experiencing what Karen Horney describes as the tyranny of should.

The tyranny of should occurs when you are driven to behave according to rigid and unrealistic expectations about who you should be, rather than a sincere desire to do so. Shoulds often originate from messages and expectations from family, friends, co-workers, teacher and media.

When you say you should do something you are telling yourself that you are not good enough as you are, and you should be more or do more to be worthy. This is incredibly damaging to one’s self-esteem and negatively impacts you in the following ways:

Cognitive Impact of Shoulds:

  • Creates anxiety and worry about acting imperfect.
  • Creates rumination about how you should have acted in the past or should act in the future.
  • Creates an inaccurate belief that behaving perfectly and according to shoulds will create self-esteem, success and happiness.

Emotional Impact of Shoulds:

  • A lack of self-confidence to act as your real self, creating a lack of authenticity and joy.
  • Guilt, shame, self-hatred, depression and anger when you inevitably are unable to meet the demands of shoulds.

Behavioural Impact of Shoulds:

  • Unattainable search for perfection.
  • Procrastination and withdrawal, as you may want to avoid behaving in a way that cannot be realistically attained.

If you notice that you’re should-ing on your career and that you’re experiencing some of the impacts listed above, stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog. I’ll provide advice about How to Stop “Should-ing” On Yourself & Your Career!


Brittany is a Career Counsellor at the Toronto and Oakville office and has completed a MA in Clinical and Counselling Psychology from the University of Toronto.

If you are looking for career counselling call our office at 647-637-1579 to schedule a 15-minute complimentary consultation. You may be able to use your insurance plan or extended health benefits to cover counselling and assessment fees

Horney, K. (2013). Neurosis and human growth: The struggle toward self-realization. Routledge.