How to Reconcile Who You “Should” Be with Who You Want to Be

How to Reconcile Who You “Should” Be with Who You Want to Be

Who are you?

Yup, we’re getting existential right out of the gate. Because understanding your identity and the “why” that drives you is critical to Human Leadership. Who you are is the foundation for every belief you hold, action you take, and behavior you exhibit as a leader.

In Chapter 3 of my book, Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance, I walk readers through a step-by-step process to get to know themselves. Because as I’ve mentioned before, you have to lead yourself first to lead others well.

But what if you’re not satisfied with who you currently are?

If today’s you isn’t your best you, that’s okay! Coaches like me are here to help you get to where you want to be. Today, I’m sharing some first steps you can take to address that disconnect. 

First, you have to figure out where you’re going.

Your Different Selves

Who do you want to be?

Ah, another question that isn’t nearly as simple to answer as it is to ask.

There’s a reason for that. According to psychologist Tory Higgins, there isn’t a singular you. That is, your concept of “self” actually includes three parts: your actual self, your ideal self, and your ought self. This is called self-discrepancy theory.

It’s common to struggle between who you are (your actual self), who you want to be (your ideal self), and who others think you should be (your ought self). The struggle comes from dissonance caused by your actions and behaviors not aligning with your values.

The External Influence of “Should”

I recently had a reader ask me: “What if who I think I should be differs from who others think I should be? Are there two ought selves?”

I argue it’s still the same ought self.

Think about what “should” means. According to Oxford Languages (Google’s dictionary), should is “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness.” The definition beneath that is “indicating a desirable or expected state.”

Who decides what is correct or desirable? Often, we let other people determine these things for us. Neighbors, colleagues, or family members. Peers, Hollywood, and social media influencers. All of the information we take in from these sources influences our self-perception.

Any “shoulds” you tell yourself are just someone else’s beliefs you’ve internalized. Even if it’s not something someone has said to you directly, you will likely internalize some beliefs by observing them in others and comparing them to yourself. Think of the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.

Even if it sounds like your own, that voice telling you how you “should” think, feel, or act originates from someone other than yourself.

Resolving Dissonance between the Selves

Each one of us is on a journey of improvement. Most people try to evolve into the best version of themselves.

Experts call this drive self-expansion theory, developed by psychologists Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron. Authors Thomas Heinzen and Wind Goodfriend explain self-expansion theory along with self-discrepancy theory in this excellent chapter about the social self from their book Social Psychology.

If you’re not sure how exactly you want to evolve from your present state, it’s likely because your concept of your ideal self is clashing with that of your ought self. Remember, the struggle stems from your actions and behaviors not aligning with your values.

So, how do you decide which self aligns with your values? By evaluating the beliefs, actions, and behaviors required for each.


The first step to reconciling your ideal and ought selves is to identify where the dissonance between them is coming from.

What beliefs do you hold about who you “should” be? Where did those beliefs come from? Some questions to consider:

  • Do they stem from expectations formed by other people telling you who you ought to be? 
  • If yes, are there people telling you that today? Or do the beliefs stem from something that was said or happened to you in the past? 
  • If they’re from the past, what’s making you hold onto those beliefs today? 

Once you understand the origins of your beliefs about your ought self, ask yourself: are these beliefs serving me today, or are they holding me back? 

Maybe the things you need to do to become your ought self are things you want to achieve. If that’s the case, why is it conflicting with your ideal self? Could you be getting in your own way? If so, think about what you can do to move out of the way.

If the beliefs make you feel inadequate, ineffective, or unhappy today, they probably aren’t serving you. If that’s the case, the next question is: what do you want to do to release these beliefs?


Whether you’ve decided you need to get out of your own way or that you need to let go of the beliefs shaping your ought self, there is more work to do. Both are easier said than done.

Life coach Tony Robbins said it perfectly in his famed quote: “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

You have to decide which course of action will cause you less pain. And since we’re wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure, you would think this part of the decision-making process would be simpler! But oftentimes, it’s not. 

That’s why I’ve created a cost-benefit analysis tool to help weigh the options. I generally reserve this tool for my clients. However, since you’re here on my blog, I’ll share it with you too! 


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What are the costs of not changing your beliefs or of not getting out of your way? What are the benefits of letting go of those beliefs or of changing to fully embrace your ought self? Which box is more worth it to you?


Once you’ve weighed your options and decided on a course of action, you have to adjust your behaviors accordingly.

Whether you’re embracing your ought self or releasing it, you’re going to need to change the soundtrack you’ve been playing in your mind to remove the dissonance the old one is causing. By that, I mean replace the messaging, the story you tell yourself about yourself. 

Look at your cost-benefit analysis and consider what is going to be different now that you’ve committed to a course of action. What are you going to create with that information? This is the new soundtrack you need to dance into the possibilities of your ideal self. 

Set your intentions of what new beliefs, actions, and behaviors are going to manifest that version of yourself into reality. This is how you start making concrete changes that get you closer to the ought self you’ve chosen to pursue—one who is now aligned with the values of your actual and ideal self.

Get to Know the Human You

All of these steps to reconciling your different selves hinge on you knowing and understanding your values. If you haven’t considered it before, get a copy of Be Human, Lead Human. In it, I teach you everything you need to ask yourself to get familiar with your values, beliefs, and behaviors.

For more thought-provoking leadership content, follow me on LinkedIn and subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter there. Be sure to check back on my blog every two weeks for fresh posts as well!

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