Alannah is a recent graduate from the University of Wyoming with backgrounds in environmentalism, international studies, photography and cooking. She is passionate about the intersections of her interests and continuously finds value in deeper explorations into the connections that weave us and our environments together. Alannah is currently traveling the West Coast, exploring new places and herself. She hopes to share her journey, healing, questions and connections with readers here and beyond! 

Breaking out of Should 

The more I travel and reflect on the reality I have come to know, the more I realize how many cages we navigate everyday. As individuals in a capitalistic world, our value is consistently placed on physical production, i.e productivity. We are funneled through a school system said to educate us and pushed into higher education, continuously subscribing to ideas of what we think we “should” be doing.

We work more, we do more, we push ourselves to be things we are not so we can be enough for a world that will never stop asking for more. These sentiments have been echoed many times by many people and have become somewhat of a rallying mantra for the younger generation. As societal events, like COVID-19 and countless social movements, expose cracks in current systems, we are learning to question what we are told  we should be doing and everything we should be. 

Personally, I have begun to realize the depths of my entrenchment in the ideas of should as I travel and am forced to redefine what I want my days, my activities, my spaces, my entire life really, to look like. The pursuit of this level of authenticity and choice is as terrifying as it is exciting. My progress is too frequently halted by the fear of choosing differently. Constantly, I am challenged to remind myself that I feel more like myself even at the start of this shaky journey than I did at the peaks of my old paths. 

Scales of Should

A major trope of this line of thinking, of encouraging different choices, is this large amorphous cloud of “rebel against the system” and “relentlessly choose you” that not only alientates but overwhelms so many people from embracing their own journey. For me, right now I do exist in that uncertain cloud where my entire life and concept of self are being redefined. However, I often think of past me and how I have seen glimpses of these moments in small, everyday situations and I begin to realize that micro-choices can lead to larger change.

I know that these small moments exist for everyone, whether we recognize them or not. I can recall many of these moments when for whatever reason I was empowered to choose me over the schoolwork I thought defined me, or to choose rest over my social life. They also existed when I allowed myself to understand that any side path to self improvement wasn’t detrimental, but rather moments where I chose me over the path I thought I should be on. When I remembered that, it was easier to pick the new habit back up rather than think I destroyed it all with one choice. 

For example, I am currently trying to nourish my body in a way I have never before. In the past few years I have struggled with eating enough and eating food that made me feel good. Since I have been traveling, I have not been eating meat and am focusing on eating all three meals of healthy food. A few days ago I decided I missed my comfort food and so binged on mac and cheese, a cookie, and a milkshake. See, at that moment I should have prioritized my health journey and had a veggie packed pasta instead, but I chose me. The hardest part of this choice for me is sitting in a moment and actually listening to what it is that I want. What I should want is so deeply ingrained in my consciousness. It takes courage and quietness to find the true voice of myself and follow it, no matter what. 

Listening to You 

Another aspect of my life that has highlighted how intertwined my existence is with prescribed values is the guilt I feel everytime I choose to stay home in a new city, nourishing myself through rest and movies and frankly, doing nothing. I become overwhelmed by the guilt that I am not taking advantage of this amazing opportunity to travel by maximizing every moment I have with adventures. I am terrified that if I don’t return with enough stories and pictures and souvenirs that everyone at home will look at my different choice as a failure and I will end up back in towns I don’t feel like me in, doing jobs that drain the part of me that hungers for different choices.

Only recently have I begun to feel empowered enough to quiet that voice and amplify the one in me that knows that the best thing I can do for myself is to listen to what I need, resting at home, thriving on the love of the dogs I am watching, hibernating in a way until I am ready to explore new places with an open mind and curious eyes. I am finally understanding that I do truly know what is best for me. I hope that other people can start to recognize which voices and ideas are theirs and which ones are resounding echoes of what they should be doing or thinking. 

I hope you begin to trust your voice, to give it space to grow and guide you, to become you. 

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” Howard Thurman