The Day the ‘Shoulds’ Died


It has been exactly one month since I drove my car into the side of a pickup truck westbound on Highway 2 toward Bemidji.  After my world (as I know it) exploded, my first thought was that I was not dead and probably should or could be.  My second thought was to call Milt (after I grabbed a paper towel to hold against my bleeding forehead.  My third thought was that my life was going to be different than it had been just seconds before.

It was the worst accident of my life.  I had serious injuries to both feet and a thoracic compression fracture plus nine stitches to my forehead.  Nothing required casting or surgery or even an overnight stay in the hospital, but it hurt.

A lot of things came to an abrupt halt.  Suddenly walking from the couch to the sink was a major effort.  Sitting in a chair was painful.  I could only sustain writing or working on the computer for fifteen minutes.  Those of you who know me well, know that I am not a person who easily sits still.

But maybe hidden in that statement is the one good thing to come out of this accident.  Maybe I am learning to sit still, to rest, to reflect, to stop piling one thing onto another surrounded by a whole lot of shoulds.

It was not easy to give up on my do list.  I wanted to “should” on myself.  I really did.  One week in I hobbled out to the flower bed, sat on the ground, worked for five minutes, and then tried to get up.  Not good.

I had to cancel several presentations and a workshop, set aside my book a month project, and stare passively out the window at the massive amount of garden chores and mudding projects that I had been preparing to dive into.

I rested.  I slept.  I drank a lot of water.  It felt like everything in my life was suddenly being filtered through my inured feet instead of my too busy brain.  One month in, and I am just now beginning to sit for a full hour upright without being 100% conscious of only my pain.

But an event like this makes a person ask a lot of questions.  Why do I feel the need to do, do, do?  Where does it get me?  Who is behind the voice in my head that is constantly telling me what I should do?  And if I don’t do it ALL, who cares?  And maybe more importantly, are questions like what really matters to me?  What do I feel most passionate about?

In a strange way I like that I am being forced to take personal inventory and not just racing down a path of do, do, do until I drop.

I don’t yet know what the outcome will be.  I remember reading a story about a psychologist who had a client who didn’t know how to say no or put things down.  When she came in one day he walked around the room and kept picking up things and handing them to her—a tissue box, a figurine, a potted plant, a book, a pillow from the couch.  She just kept taking whatever he gave her until she couldn’t hold any more and began to drop items.

It is too easy to go through life and just keep picking up more and more to do and be without letting anything go.  I’ve been doing workshops since 1985.  I’ve sat in a room with thousands of people, listening to their requests,their hurts, their desired outcomes until once face blurs with another.  I’ve planted a garden every years since I had my first house in 1979.  I’ve written nearly twenty books.  And now we’ve built three straw bale structures that need my expert mudding attention:)

Is there a little voice in my head that says, “But what about me?”

Maybe it is time I sat in silence and stillness with her and listened to all she has to say.  I have no idea what that might mean, but I don’t want to dance to every single should (and could—it is just as demanding) that emerges out of my mind.  I want to be intentional.  Careful.  Generous and gentle with myself.

The only thing I am slowly beginning to get back to is finishing my books.  It felt good to re-engage my story self and set her loose upon the world again. And the only other things that matter to me are love and creativity, and I have those in great abundance around me.

I wonder if this blog will continue on as I re-emerge from my recovery.  We shall see.

Peace to all of you and take great care with yourself and those you love.  It is really all that matters.

And special thanks to my husband, Milt Lee, for taking such good care of me.  You and me were meant to be.

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The Day the ‘Shoulds’ Died — 6 Comments

  1. Thank you Jamie for this on my birthday I needed this. My life changed a lot when I made a choice to stay in Germany and I too got caught in the shoulds realized on some levels it’s a German thing mostly with work gardens whatever needs to be done constantly. But on the other hand as I struggled with finding my way back to a work level I was at before I had to stop reassess…If doors were closing what was the answer I was getting? Slow down what you love. When I started to do that…I got support mostly my online family and my husband. But the world around me still screamed do more…no. Why? For who? One life…sometimes the most precious thing you will ever do is to find your own way…and take the time you need or I need on my journey after all its mine. Love you Jamie…Thank you for this post.

    • Hi Jamie Lee. So sorry to learn of your accident. You are an inspiration for all of us who have become “human doings” rather than “human beings.” Me thinks you are turning this lesson into something very positive and healing. I send love….gobs of it.

  2. A while ago there was a mention in one of Milt’s facebook posts that you were recovering. It would seem that I missed the main event – what actually happened – perhaps in an earlier post. So sorry to read of your accident. They are often real game changers. As your recovery progresses I’m sure the road ahead will become clear. Here’s mudd in your eye, and under your fingernails.

  3. Lovely Jamie, Thank you, So many of us need to hear the giving up of the shoulds – so thanks for honoring it for yourself – guess you didn’t have much choice.
    As Mary Burmeister said -‘Be the dropping of the Shoulders’ –
    have you ever noticed that the word SHOULD is in the word Shoulder!
    Love, helena

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