Should Ask Dr. G
Written by Doctor G

I’ll trade you two “shoulds” for a “want”


In third grade I went to a public school in a tire town in Ohio. We only lived there for a year, but I learned a lot in that school. Some of it was super-impactful, like what “kike” meant and how to dodge when the kids decided to stone me. Yup, that happened. Some of it was useful, like the rules of foursquare and the awesomeness of the Junior Great Books program. And some of it was theoretical, like the amazing and wonderful world of lunch trades. 

There were (and still are, at most schools) the buyers and the packers. I was a buyer. As a parent myself, I don’t blame my parents for this AT ALL. I currently loathe packing lunches so much that I make my kids pack their own (and their siblings) starting at age nine. But in third grade, packing seemed to me the entry into an incredible marketplace, an endless variety of foods from other people’s kitchens and the possibility that you could trade yours for theirs. If you’ve ever been to a flea market you’ve witnessed but a fraction of the hard bargains driven in school lunchrooms all over the country in the mid- to late-1970s. I couldn’t trade (the bought lunches of that era were really not worth the sweaty, creased paper punchcard pulled from my corduroy pocket) but I could watch and learn. 

That barter system stuck with me, and I’m a big fan of trades even now. It gave me an inherent bias towards offering something to get something in return (for better and worse), and figuring out what people want and how they value what they don’t have. Lately I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the production and goal-oriented society we have here in the developed world of 2022. 

Here in the US we still have strong Puritan influences on how we value people and time. Productivity is crucial, and lead to all kinds of ills, like ableism and ageism and racism and sexism, through the belief that those who create capitalistic success are more inherently valuable than those who don’t. Just as damaging is the idea that, among people who can be productive, they are only of value while they are being productive. 

This is a huge failing of mine. This inherent belief leads me to multitask, to judge my every hour (if not every minute) by what I’ve marked off my to do list or accomplished rather than what I’ve experienced or how I’ve treated myself or someone else. It leads my life to be driven by the concept of should. What I should do today, what I should’ve gotten done during lunch… to trade sleep, nutrition, cuddling, relaxing, enjoying all for a “should.” 

That is not a resilient path. I can’t navigate change and become more the person I want to be if I keep focusing on should. Should is about other people’s expectations – or worse, societal expectations enforced by everyone but actually no one – not about who and how I want to be in my one life. 


Should is about other people’s expectations, not about who and how I want to be in my one life. 

So I’ve decided to trade. Two “shoulds” for one want. That want might come with a to-do list of its own, but that’s OK. That want is going to align with who and how I want to be. 

Got any shoulds you don’t need? You can trade those too. Comment and tell me what you’re going to do instead! 

All my best, 

Dr. G

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A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
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