Welcome to The Shoulds, a publication & community examining the hidden rules & stories that shape our lives. 

Edited by me, Francesca Specter, the millennial, London-dwelling author of Alonement: How To Be Alone & Absolutely Own It and host of the Alonement podcast, The Shoulds is an email newsletter that explores authentic living, psychology, autonomy and relationships (of all kinds). 

Why the name? 

My newsletter title, The Shoulds, is inspired by a paper written by psychoanalyst Karen Hornsey in the 1950s, where she coined the term, ‘The tyranny of the Shoulds’.

Shoulds are rules we’ve internalised from our external world. When we think we should do something, it’s often rooted in an outside pressure: from our family, our peers, our communities. 

Shoulds aren’t necessarily good or bad. ‘I should brush my teeth’, for instance. But! In therapy, ‘should’ based thinking is challenged. Living off of a diet of ‘Shoulds’ – with our thoughts and actions chronically dictated by them – is a sure sign we’ve lost touch with what we want altogether. That’s why we need to examine ours, to make sure they’re right for us. As psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn pointed out in an early interview for this platform, they can turn into ‘self-flagellation’.

Exploring and examining your ‘Shoulds’ is a pretty great exercise for living a more authentic, fulfilling life. And that’s what we all want deep down, right? 

Going forward, this Substack will contain the bulk of my writing, interviews and online presence. I’ll be coming your way with commentary, tips and advice on everything from productivity guilt & friendship expectations, to how to make social media work for you; how to have healthy and mutually-fulfilling relationships; how to handle conversations around when, or indeed if, you should have kids.

But that’s not all… 

What can I expect? 

Each week, I’ll be introducing a fresh theme – a ‘Should of the Week’, if you will. Some of the most popular past themes include ‘I should walk more’, ‘I should meditate’, ‘I should be more confident’, ‘I should be more supportive towards my parent friends’.

The content will be in one of four main formats. There will also be a spoken audio component, for those who prefer to listen (or mix it up occasionally). So, to summarise…

#1 First person posts (Weekly)

Each week, you’ll read my first-person hot takes around, say, lifestyle crazes like manifesting, and the latest relationship & dating ‘trends’. If you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past, then you should be a satisfied customer. This may or may not link to the weekly theme – but I’ll always announce the next week’s theme so you know what’s coming up. Occasionally I’ll hand the mic over to a guest post-er, or sub in an interview Q&A, for when I get sick of my own voice want to introduce another perspective.

#1.5 As part of these weekly posts, I’ll be sharing round-ups of what I’ve read/listened to/done – ‘What I *should* have shared on social media’.

#2 Themed resources/inspiration (Weekly)

More resources, you say? Didn’t we already cover that in #1.5? Well, yeah, but these are kind of cool – because they will be inspiration based on the weekly theme e.g. how you could, if you wanted to, get into journalling (rather than just throwing your phone across the room every time you see an Instagram Reel about fancy stationery).

#3 Expert interviews (Monthly)

#4 Community comments section (Weekly)

Talking of Pretty Huge Deals, that brings me to the final component of The Shoulds’ contents: you. Because in each of my posts there will be a comments section for you to share your take on the weekly theme, and to start a broader conversation. You can also follow me on Twitter to see previews of the week’s forthcoming discussions.

The Shoulds by Francesca Specter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Let’s explore that ‘community’ word in a bit more detail…

What makes The Shoulds a ‘community’?

This isn’t a virtual room of one’s own – it’s also a platform for intelligent, nuanced online conversations. Ones that mirror the most nourishing offline chats with your friends in a cosy pub somewhere, but capitalising on the internet’s facility to connect us across continents and cultures. The kind that, I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly missed in recent years – when it seems anything that exceeds a 90-second TikTok video, or a 280-character tweet, loses favour online. 

Through offering an online forum to talk about the hidden rules & stories we tell ourselves, The Shoulds will create a community grounded in empathy, compassion and celebrating different perspectives. 

Who’s it for? 

The Shoulds is for anyone, of any age, who’s ever felt weighed down by expectations – cultural, social, professional, familial, you name it – of what they ‘should’ do, think or feel. Obviously, some of these Shoulds will be specific (with a skew towards my contemporary millennials). But then there are the more universal ones: to have a certain kind of sex life, or do a zeitgeist-y kind of wellness practice. 

Do you charge for The Shoulds?

In a word, yes. A decade into my journalism and writing career, this is the first time I’ve charged directly through my work – as part of a reader-funded publication, rather than through sponsorships, advertising or a one of the glossy magazine brands I used to live and breathe (I started my career as a Vogue assistant, so working for the latter was once a pretty big Should o’ mine). 

My reason for moving to this model is to serve my chosen audience better – writing in a way that I think you’ll want to read, with creative control over the content, graphics, expert interviews, etc. And I hope you’ll support me to do it for the price of an oat milk latte each month: subscriptions will be priced at £5 a month (or a discounted rate of £4.17 if you subscribe annually)

Remind me why this is a ‘thing’? 

Next time you talk to a friend, count up how many ‘shoulds’ you fire at each other. Better still, try and consider how many ‘shoulds’ you tell yourself: I should go to bed earlier (true), I should text so-and-so back, I should have gone to the gym this evening. For me, The Shoulds come up time and time again in work, self-care, dating, relationships and lifestyle choices.

I believe that good writing comes from exploring what unites us, rather than divides us. Although we all experience a different combination of ‘shoulds’, we each exist daily in the intersection between ours – plus the fear, anxiety and guilt that comes along with them. 

I’m interested in lives driven by curiosity and desire, not by fear – by the ‘coulds’ rather than the shoulds. And I have a hunch that you might want that for yourself, too.  

p.s. As a little thanks for reading this far, here’s a 10% discount off your subscription.

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From Alonement author & podcaster Francesca Specter, an online publication examining the hidden rules & stories that shape our lives.


A London-based, millennial writer who's best known for a book/podcast celebrating time alone (and yet, remains pretty sociable). Writes The Shoulds, examining the hidden rules & stories that shape our lives: francescaspecter.substack.com