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  • Calista Ocean

What am I supposed to do?

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

What if...I let go of ideas of who I'm supposed to be in order to create more space for who I actually am?

I know it seems like a strange question, especially after decades of making decisions to live my life as authentically as possible. Yet, I still get pulled into ideas about how I'm "supposed to be." The voice in my head has become kinder through the years, but can still be judgmental and bossy. It likes to point out the ways that I'm failing, or at least not doing "enough."

You should be posting to your blog twice a month.

You should have finished your memoir by now.

You should have completed the first draft of your novel written already.

You should practice yoga every single day.

You should practice doing handstands or other more advanced inversions.

You should be vegetarian.

You should be more patient.

You should dress more appropriately for your age.

You should be healthier than you are.

You should be happy and grateful all of the time.

And the list of "shoulds" goes on and on. There is always some ideal way of being or something I'm supposed to believe about myself or others. That is why it's important for me to take time out to reflect - to journal, do yoga, meditate, or walk in nature. Hitting "pause" helps me to pick up each of the "shoulds" - to look at it from a different angle and figure out if there's a seed of truth hiding under the shiny surface of the thoughts that generated them. If there is, I can hold onto that truth and discard the social conditioning that it's wrapped in.

Let's start with writing. It's true that I'd like to write more often and finish key projects, but the only real deadline is in my mind. For me, writing is a form of self-expression that I've practiced since I was a child. I don't have any publishers blowing up my phone to demand my latest novel (at least not yet). While I admire best-selling authors who publish multiple masterpieces, putting pressure on myself to be more prolific or profound only stifles my creativity. Writing is a slow, painstaking process filled with false starts and revisions. Embracing this process, rather than forcing myself to meet unrealistic standards, feels more genuine and joyous.

How about yoga? Sometimes I practice yoga daily, but more often I practice a few times a week. And my yoga practice looks different now (in my 50's) than it did in my 30s. I used to love the challenge of handstands and other inversions, but now I prefer the subtleties and stillness of a Yin practice. This can be difficult for me when I attend yoga teacher trainings with younger teachers whose practices I judge as "stronger" than my own, but after decades of learning and teaching yoga, I trust myself to practice in a way that honors my own well-being and I have the confidence to teach others how to create a personal practice that meets their unique needs. Yoga is simply not a "one size fits most" type of practice.

Speaking of which...

Through my yoga practice, I've been introduced to some incredible teachers, practitioners, and communities whose values are similar to my own, but even this can lead to unrealistic expectations. Over the years, I've met spiritual teachers and friends who have put pressure on me to maintain a mindset of constant positivity, let go of my desires for material possessions, choose alternative healing over modern medicine, or listen only to my heart/intuition and not my mind. Much of this advice is well-intentioned, but rather than leading to liberation, striving to be "spiritual" often encouraged me to suppress genuine emotions and left me feeling overwhelmed and self-judgmental. Through time, my perspective has changed. Now, I try to focus more on acting with integrity and compassion than following "rules."

Life is full of these “supposed to be” moments. We bend ourselves into uncomfortable shapes, trying to fit into the molds of a perfect spouse, a successful entrepreneur, a prolific writer, a champion athlete, or an ideal parent. The irony is, in trying to become these ideal versions, we often lose sight of who we really are.

Let's go back to the yoga example. We've all seen stunning photos of people in impossible poses, their bodies twisted and contorted in ways that seem both beautiful and unattainable. It’s enough to make anyone (including me) feel inadequate. When I tell people that I teach yoga, often they respond by saying something like “I’d love to try yoga, but I’m not fit or flexible enough.” This mindset usually keeps them from even stepping onto the mat. The truth is, those photos represent a tiny fraction of yoga practitioners, showcasing advanced postures that most people (including me!) will never practice. There is no need to. Yoga is about supporting the health of your body and nourishing your soul, not about mimicking what you see online.

And this "supposed to" mentality isn't limited to yoga. We see it in almost every aspect of life. The pressure to live up to unrealistic ideals creates a cycle of self-doubt and inaction. We tell ourselves that we’re not ready, not skilled enough, not perfect enough to start. But what if we shifted our perspective? What if we let go of these unrealistic comparisons and focused instead on our own journeys?

What if we allowed ourselves to be beginners? To try, to fail, and to learn without the pressure of measuring up to someone else's standards? Letting go of the idea of what we’re supposed to be creates space for who we actually are. It allows us to explore our interests, pursue our passions, and connect with others in more meaningful ways. It’s about being present in our own lives and finding joy in our own progress, however slow or imperfect it might be.

So, the next time you find yourself straining to meet some external expectation, pause and ask yourself: Am I doing this because it’s truly meaningful to me, or because I think it’s what I’m supposed to do? Aligning your actions with your genuine self not only feels better but also brings a deeper sense of fulfillment and ease. After all, the most beautiful poses, in yoga and in life, are the ones that come naturally.


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