Because I binge on self-help materials, I am unable to tell you who is responsible for the phrase “Stop shoulding all over yourself.” It’s fine that I can’t remember and now I can’t know who said it first. There is so much circular plagiarism in self-help that it’s likely attributed to someone who is already discredited and banned from Whole Foods anyway. I just felt compelled to point out that while I wish it was my joke, it is not.

That said: stop shoulding all over yourself!!

Should is a loaded word, it’s freighted with responsibility and a thick coating of guilt. It may seem innocent, but it’s as innocent as a cannonball. Most of us drop shoulds on ourselves all day long.

We should eat more vegetables, we should relax, we should be more patient with each other.

You really should stop using should, particularly when you use it to bother your own emotions, like I should be happy right now. Should you? Really, you should feel however you feel. You cannot get it wrong when it comes to emotions.

Now, when I catch myself using the word should, I replace it with might. Might takes all the heft out of shoulding.

I love might. It’s a pointy little word which is very efficient and jabs at all the possibilities.

Because might implies asking permission and all sorts of nuance, there is inherent comedy in using it in extreme situations. For example, when you cut off a finger and say, “I might want to get medical attention.” Might provides effortless hilarity.

Another lovely thing about might is the way it automatically presents its friend might not. When you say you might have rabies, it’s unspoken that you also might not have rabies. For a contrarian, this is the magic of linguistics that makes talking worthwhile.

Lastly, might also might mean mighty, as in a powerful force. You might have the might of a hurricane.

You might give it a try. When you tell yourself, I should wash the cat, try again with I might wash the cat. Isn’t that better? The cat is definitely not bothering herself with a list of shoulds, so why should you?

Because I have not invented this concept either, as I recall, I must nod to John Steinbeck for most memorably etching this tradition on my brain. If you choose to read a doorstop of a book this summer, you could do worse than East of Eden. I am not spoiling it to say that it is essentially a shaggy dog story which ends up with a helpful lesson right alongside YA MIGHT.

Ya might say the phrases are like siblings.

Okay. I’ll stop now.


Can’t stand the cicadas? Put earbuds in and buy my book! Or subscribe to my piebald newsletter. I am trying to find a humor editor, because obviously I smell butter and long to have professionals tell me how wrong I am so I don’t have to do everything my own damn self.

Defective Pets, Inc.

I had to buy a room-sized floor mat to deal with Ms. Litterpaws. She is the Godzilla of my home. She is not helpful in any way, although she nearly strangled on a stray bra, so that’s something.


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