You should read this, you really should…

Donkey looking down

Many years ago, a man and his son set off to walk to market with their donkey. On the way they passed through several villages.

At the first village the people laughed at them. “You are so stupid”, they said, “one of you should ride the donkey.” That seemed like a good idea, so the son got on the donkey and on they walked.

Then they came to the second village. “How terrible”, the villagers called out, “forcing an old man to walk while the young man takes it easy. The old man should ride!” So the father and son swapped places.

At the next village they again found themselves the object of ridicule. “Idiots!” the people cried. “You should both ride the donkey!” So they did.

And at the next village the people threw stones: “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” they shouted, “crushing that poor animal! You should be carrying the donkey, not the other way around!”

You can probably see where this is going. At the fifth village the people told them they should stop carrying the donkey and just walk to market together. So they did.

A ‘should’ is just a rule of thumb: it’s a principle for behaviour that used to make sense in the past but it might not make sense any more. Different people will always tell you that you should do different things. And you will never be able to satisfy them all.

So when so much change is happening all around us, and the old rules no longer seem to apply, doesn’t it make more sense instead to do what is right for you  —  no matter what anybody else thinks you ‘should‘?

Learning to spot your shoulds will help you find a better alternative. It will get you to market faster, your way, and without a sore back.

It will also help to make you antifragile.

How often do you hear the people around you say, “You should…” without explaining why? How often do you do the same? In a time of so much change, does it make sense to check whether these ‘shoulds’ still apply and get clearer on what you really want instead?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Frank Jakobi via

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