The Danger of “Supposed To…”

Young Woman Looking To The Cefalu, Sicily

The dream of a better life cannot be ignored.

There are two words in the English language that may seem innocent enough, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, they can put the brakes on a positive life quicker than you can imagine:

Supposed to.

I have a question for you, and I want you to answer it honestly–it’s a tough one too. Here goes:

Are you committed to living the life that you desperately want to live, or will you settle for the one that you’re “supposed to” live?

I believe that the answer to this simple question has the power to shape the entire course of your life.

The Insanity of “Supposed to”

In the past two years, I’ve run into many people who were almost ready to get off the fence and go after their dreams, but right when they were ready to jump, they were convinced not to do it.

  • I know a guy who is staying in a loveless and joyless marriage because he has been told he’s “supposed to” stay married for the sake of his kids, no matter if he’s happy or not.
  • There is another guy who has been dying to start his own business and be his own boss, but he continues to stay in his dangerously toxic job that is slowly killing him because he has been convinced that he’s not “supposed to” quit his job in this economy.
  • Recently, I spoke with a woman who has always wanted to pack up all of her stuff and move across country to a new city for a fresh start, but she has consistently talked herself out of her dream because people her age aren’t “supposed to” do stuff like that.

Can you relate to these people in any way?

Is there something else that your soul is crying out for you to do (if you’re being honest with yourself, you know what that thing is), but you’ve talked yourself out of it because you’re “supposed to” do, be, or have something else?

If so, I am here to tell you that you’re making the wrong choice.

Who in the world are these people who are telling you who you are supposed to be, or what you’re supposed to do with your life?

More importantly, if you’re getting this broken advice from someone (or from a society at large) that isn’t happy or fulfilled, why would you listen to what they’re telling you to do with your life?

Most of all, what if the story about what you’re “supposed to do” with your life is a baseless story that you made up?

Finding the Courage to Truly Live

In the past couple of months, I have had a quite a few painful reminders that life is incredibly fragile, and oftentimes, too damn short.

Because of this, I am officially refusing to live in regret by creating excuses about why I should settle for the life that I’m “supposed to” live instead of the one that I truly want to live.

The life that I’m “supposed to” live involves me continuing to work in a senior management position at a very prestigious organization, making my friends and family proud, and spending every professional moment scratching and clawing my way up the corporate ladder until I finally retire.

In case you’re wondering, that’s not good enough for me.

That might be the life that society says that I’m “supposed to” live, but that’s not the life that I desperately want to live.

I want to make this world a more positive place to work and live for millions of people. That’s the life that I want to live. That’s why I keep showing up here every Monday, regardless of the drama that I’m dealing with in my personal or professional lives.

Unless I put myself fully out there and go “all in” on my dream, why would I expect anyone to trust me and support my mission?

But enough about me, I want you to be real and vulnerable with me for a moment.

Are you living the life that you want to live?

Ignoring the life that you truly want to live–the one that you know that you’re meant to live–is the same as choosing to slowly kill the spirit and fire inside of you.

The good news is that it is never too late to make the right choice.

We might have the most impressive list of excuses in the world, but the bottom line is that our dreams came to us for a reason and they will not go away easily–regardless of our excuses.

It has taken me most of my adult life to come to this realization, and I don’t want you to wait nearly as long.

The Choice to Live Intentionally

I know that a lot of people are afraid to fully go after their dreams.

We fear that the people who are telling us what we’re “supposed to be doing” will be upset by our decisions to not follow their blueprint for our lives as we go off-script and toward our dreams.

Maybe this is radical thinking, but I don’t give a damn what your significant other, your parents, your boss, your college professor, your group of friends, your minister, your therapist, or anyone else thinks about your dreams.

Seriously, I don’t. You shouldn’t either.

I’m not naive–I know that we can’t always have what we want, or do whatever we want. Sometimes we do have to do what we’re supposed to do. I get it.

My point is that I don’t want “supposed to do/be/have” to be our default life setting.

Regardless of what some people may tell you:

  • You aren’t “supposed to” get married and have kids at a certain age.
  • You aren’t “supposed to” drive a certain type of car, wear a certain type of clothes, or hang out with a certain group of friends because that’s what everyone else is doing.
  • You aren’t “supposed to” go to school to become a lawyer solely because your daddy and your grandpa are lawyers.
  • You aren’t “supposed to” suck it up and do the things that consistently make you miserable, because society says that you should.

Instead of living a life of “supposed to’s,” wouldn’t it make more sense to live intentionally instead?

If you’ve always had a soul-nourishing dream to do, be, or have something special and you’re standing on the edge of the “decision cliff” with the life-altering choice of staying on solid ground (aka, the life you’re “supposed to” have) or choosing to jump (aka, the life you have always wanted), you have to be true to that soul-nourishing dream and jump.

Will it always be a soft landing if you do jump?

Hell no. Sometimes it will be a flawless landing, and sometimes you’ll crash and burn. Either way, one thing is for certain:

If you talk yourself out of it and never jump, there will come a day where you will regret that decision with every fiber of your being.

The only failures in this world are the sad, sorry souls who refuse to try.

Yes, going after what you want is a risk. And yes, you could fail, be embarrassed, and look like a complete fool in the process. I’d be lying to all of you if these thoughts didn’t cross my mind before I launched The Positivity Solution almost two years ago (or more accurately, before every blog post that I’ve ever published here.)

But there’s also a very real chance that you could get exactly what you want, and then some.

On the other hand, consistently settling for the life that you’re “supposed to” live and refusing to live intentionally basically guarantees that you’ll lose in the game of life by default.

This is why settling for a life of “supposed to” is so incredibly dangerous.

Millions of people make the easy (and often, wrong) choice of settling for the life that they’re supposed to live at the expense of the life that they truly want to live.

Your life is too short and too precious to be one of them.

Your Turn

Is there an area of your life where you’re living the life that you’re “supposed to” live instead of the life that you truly want to live? If so, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

Latest posts by Shola (see all)


  1. Hi Shola! This post totally hit home for me. I am a single lady over 30, with my own house, a good job and a small family of cats. A lot of people tell me I will end up like a “crazy old cat lady”, alone and miserable because I am not married and don’t have any kids. You know Shola? I spent years trying to do what society expected of me (Get a job, find a man, marry before 30, have kids, etc), it was painful to try to blend in. But after 3 failed relationships, a bad job and a broken heart, I decided I had to start living the life I wanted even if that meant to be alone for a while. I didn’t let that discourage me. I bought my own house, changed my job, got into a gym, started traveling and took the reins of my life. I learned to be happy on my own, I am still single and no boyfriend, but at last I am happy because I got off the fence and started living the life I wanted. Just because I am not married and don’t have any kids as society dictates, it doesnt mean I am miserable. I am happy with the way I shaped my life, I chose to be me instead of trying to live the life that Society expected.

    God blessed me with wonderful friends, a loving mother and a great sister so, I am not alone! I know that one day I will find The One, but until that day comes, I will continue living my life and to keep chasing my dreams! beacuse at the end of the day, all I have is myself and my faith in God.

    Thank you for such an inspiring post Shola, have a wonderful week! 🙂

    • This is awesome, Sofia–thanks so much for sharing! Isn’t it such a freeing feeling to break free from how other people are expecting you to live your life? You have every right to spend some time out of a romantic relationship and focused on the life that you want to live, regardless of whether society or anyone else gets it. You keep doing YOU, Sofia. Your happiness is the proof that you’re making the right decisions 🙂

  2. Great post Shola! I’m so glad you keep showing up here every Monday!! I’m very proud to say that I have a son who has never been a conformist. He has had a very strong will since the day he was born and always does what he wants and not what anyone else thinks he should do. Sometimes I think he’s going to get himself in trouble some day but I often marvel at how amazing he is…Since I know how you love good quotes, here are a few for you…Have a great week!! 🙂

    “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
    ― John F. Kennedy

    “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
    ― Maya Angelou

    “I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.”
    ― Rita Mae Brown

    • Hey Spring! Huge props to your son for having the maturity to not conform, because it took me most of my adult life to figure out this lesson. Also, thanks for the quotes–the Maya Angelou and Rita Mae Brown quotes are two of my favorites, but I’ve never heard the JFK one before now 🙂

  3. Hi Shola,
    Thanks for your post. I have a question for you. How does one figure out how to live their best life? I’m a mom and I love being a mom, but besides that, I really don’t know where I belong, especially as far as a job/career. I’m in the process of finding a new job/line if work, but I’m not even convinced this change will be the right one. I just wish I could find my niche and know that is where I need to be. Maybe I am one of those people who are meant to be a mother, but in this day and age for economical reasons need to work. Any advice/ words of wisdom would be appreciated. Keep writing Shola, we’re listening! Peace to you.

    • Hey Laurie, thanks for asking! For me, I was able to start living my best life when I asked myself two simple, but powerful questions (in no particular order): 1) What is it that I never want to experience in my life? (And then I started doing the opposite), 2) What activities bring me the most joy? (Besides being a dad and a husband, writing/talking about positivity is at the top of the list.) To be honest, the answers didn’t come immediately, but I kept asking over and over again, and the answers revealed themselves eventually. Also, don’t wait for the one magical thing that’s supposed to be your life’s purpose–it could be a combination of many things, including your role of being a mom. The key is to be open to the answers and to keep following your joy. Best of luck in your journey Laurie, you got this!

  4. Brandon Battle says:

    Hey Shola,
    First, I was able to read this post because of the recommended(mandatory) staff reading of The Resilience Based Philosophy, for the AHA! organization. I loved it, and even though, at first I thought it to be a repeat of what I have heard and read in other forms, it was especially unique and touched home like nothing I’ve ever come across before. Thank you for that.
    That led me to your site, and to this post. Which Resonated with me! I’ve been dealing with “Supposed to’s” and lately have been much more perceptive of them. I’d like to share an unique situation where I’ve noticed it the most.

    I play music in a band with members who are older and have had more experience in different specific genres of music. Each member leaning each towards their own style and education: Pop/Folk or Blues/Jazz or Metal/Classical. Myself leaning toward Rock/Classical.
    We create original music, and have been doing so for a few years together now. Its been awesome enriching experience, however I believe we have been plagued with “supposed to” since we formed our group.
    Suppose to play this with this.
    Suppose to sound like this.
    Suppose to have this.
    Suppose to look like this.
    We have had battles about what is suppose to happen next in a song all night, essentially wasting a practice, yet I believe we are making progress, realizing the creative walls that have been created by successful artist before us that have tuned our ears to expect and need more of what they have created. I believe we are continuing to tear those expectations down, so we can have free creative reign. We do however, encounter more “supposed to’s” in every new song, and struggle to free ourselves from it.
    I know this is slightly different than what others have previously shared in relation to your post. I believe all types artist must encounter this though. The urge to follow in the steps of past and present successful artists, to go to a prestigious(expensive) school to learn the right and wrongs of art, and lack of patience on the road to becoming an accomplished artist cause “I’m suppose to be there by now”.

    I believe these can have a negative caging effect on a persons creative expansion. I wont have any of it! 🙂 The only way I know of overcoming these “suppose to’s”, is to take them on one at a time.
    Hope you enjoyed my share, and Id love to read any advise or comments you can offer Shola or anyone of course.
    Have an epic day.

    • Great Post! Great reply! I think you both spoke from your heart and that can be just right! Let’s keep on track for the life we want.

    • Hey Brandon, thanks for your comment my man! Interestingly enough, I think that creative people are the ones who can deal with the “supposed to’s” the most. As a writer, I have had to fight it a lot and I’m sure that as a musician, you’ll be dealing with it for as long as you’re in a band. Since you asked for advice, let me recommend an incredible book for you to read: The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It will help you to break down the barriers in your mind in order to be the creative genius that you were meant to be. It truly is an epic read, and you’ll love it. In the meantime, keep fighting for your art and keep rejecting the pressure of needing to “be there by now.” The key to being an artist is that you’ll never “be there,” and that’s the joy of being an artist 😉

  5. I can honestly say that I don’t worry about what I am “supposed to” do one single bit!!! I am sure this has not always been the case, but I am fiercely committed to doing what is in my heart to do, not what anyone else seems to dictate (or want to dictate) I should do.

    Also, my 16 year old child just came out as transgender, specifically agender. This child is FIERCE. If there is anyone who is ignoring the “supposed to” of the world, it is them. I am inspired by their commitment to being true to themselves!!!

    So yeah, I hope all the people who still try to live their lives according to “supposed to” get to read your blog. Cause that is just not the way to be!

    Be yourself and live for you, not others!!! <3

    Have an awesome week, Shola!!!

    • Right on, Kathy–your child’s courage is exactly what I’m talking about! It actually makes me feel a little sheepish that I used to worry about which blog posts I’m “supposed to” write, when your 16-year old has the guts to come out like boss. Like you said, living the life that we’re “supposed to” live is not the way to be. Thanks for your comment and please give your child a high-five from me!

  6. Hi Shola, I really related to this post. Our families, our society, everywhere we are hammered with “supposed to”. Trying to follow along is so oppressive, and totally impossible, unless one decides to be a robot instead of a human being. I think the biggest “supposed to” that my husband and I didn’t do, was we didn’t have children, as we were “supposed to”. We took so much pressure for that decision. Before we married, we acknowledged that we were both very career-driven, and expected to spend the majority of our adult lives focused on our work. Neither on of us wanted to take any time off to deal with kids (I should mention both of us had already raised siblings neglected by our parents, and were burned out on child rearing). Anyway, we came up with our own “supposed to”, and that is that every child that is born is “supposed to” have parents who want them, and who want to make all the sacrifices necessary to love, protect, and nurture them. Thank you for this post Shola. It is a difficult subject. I think many or most of us spend a great part of our lives trying to reconcile all the “supposed tos” with our own independence and destiny.

    • Thanks so much for sharing that, Donna! For the life of me, I have never understood people who pressure people to have kids. I have two young daughters who I deeply love more than anything, and I have no problem saying that damn, this parenting thing is HARD WORK! I couldn’t imagine anyone having to do all of this if they weren’t 100% into the idea of being a parent. That’s why I have such a deep respect for people with the mental agility (or common sense) to not fall into the peer pressure of having kids that they don’t want because that what all married people are “supposed to” do. As always Donna, props to you and thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

  7. Hey Shola, you are messing with my head with these posts, like seriously, I’ve been in the automatic mode for the past three years and, by reading you, is like im coming back to life. So thank you Shola. God bless you. Keep inspiring people 🙂

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