Pardon Me….

Today is snow day #2 here in the Midwest.  It snowed all day yesterday, totaling about seven inches here in my neighborhood.  The skies are clear now, but the wind is causing blowing snow which results in dangerous driving conditions, hence the reason for snow day #2.  Tomorrow the wind chills are supposed to be near -20 degrees!

While I enjoyed my snow day yesterday, I spent a large part of it in deep introspection, and I feel the need to write down those thoughts and realizations.  I simply can’t imagine anyone would be interested in this mental mumbo-jumbo and stream of consciousness, so I ask that you pardon this personal post and suggest that perhaps you might just want to stop reading now.

As I was basking in my morning routine yesterday – sipping hot coffee in front of the fireplace reading my favorite blogs – I was struck by a this post from Journey through Grace where the author discussed her issue with SHOULD — that “should” comes from perfectionism and when she placed shoulds on herself – she also placed them on others, which put her in the seat of judgment rather than acceptance.  I am not stating this nearly as elegant as she — but with each sentence I found myself nodding in agreement:  that is me!

As I progressed with my day, I realized that no matter what I was doing:  a household chore; playing with the dogs; practicing photography; reading — I was always playing the tape in my mind I should really be doing such-and-such OR I should quickly finish this so that I can begin such-and such.  I NEVER allowed myself to fully enjoy the activity of the moment because I was too focused on doing the “right” thing and making the most of my day off. At the end of the day I initially felt as though I had accomplished little, when in fact I had accomplished much but enjoyed little – which led to a feeling of unfulfillment.  Then it occurred to me – if I do this on my day off, a found 24 hours of freedom, how often I must do this on days that are packed with time sensitive responsibilities.  No wonder I am exhausted and frustrated.

I am slowly working my way through Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  In that book she spends a lot of time talking about the link between shame and perfection.  I do not (think) I feel shame — but the guilt that I have placed on myself is overwhelming.  I am suffocating myself trying to accomplish much, second guessing each step of the way.  I am never satisfied with a decision made or a job completed.  There is always something else that SHOULD have been done.

I am not sure what led to this feeling of efficiency is the goal of life.  I am organized and I enjoy time management advice – but I don’t think that is what has led me to be so compulsive in this area.  I think perhaps I have subconsciously listened to all those well-meaning comments, “I just don’t know how you do it all” and twisted that around to mean “We like you because you do so much.”  Perhaps there is a fear that if I don’t do it all anymore – I will no longer be respected.  In order to maintain acceptance, I continue to try to do more and more.  It is a vicious cycle and I am the proverbial gerbil on the exercise wheel:  I keep running and running but I am getting nowhere.

I read Patti Digh’s books, Life is a Verb and Creative is a Verb.  She gives great advice.  In essence – slow down and learn to accept yourself (she says it far more eloquently with humorous anecdotes – but that is the essence of the message I received).  But even then — even reading Creative is a Verb where she is telling me to slow down — I am racing to finish the book so that I can tick it off my to-do list and move on to something else.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!  I love reading slowly and writing down key phrases.  I did not allow myself to write a single reference from this book (and there are numerous quotes that are worth contemplation).  That would take too much time, I reasoned, and I simply don’t have that kind of time.

I remember watching my children clean the house (I thought I was teaching them appropriate life skills and they had an opportunity to earn money).  I would find myself becoming quite frustrated with my oldest.  What would take me two hours to complete – took her the entire day.  She would listen to her ipod as she dusted, and then sit down and watch a favorite television show.  She would listen to her ipod while she vacuumed and then sit down and enjoy a snack.  I would think, “Why don’t you just get the job done so that you can do something else?”  It never occurred to me that she could actually get the job done WHILE doing something else.  That she could actually get the job done in a relaxed manner and not be stressed.  That she could dust and vacuum without resentment.  Why can’t I be more like that?

I used to love music.  In fact, I have tried to instill my love of music to my own children (and they have all incorporated music, to some degree, in their own lives).  I played the piano and flute; I was in band and orchestra; I loved high school musicals (before the Disney movie and Glee became popular).  I had numerous records (yes, it was the 70s when we called them records rather than vinyls) and would always have some kind of music playing in the background while studying, talking with friends, or reading.  But I rarely listen to music anymore.  Why is that?  I think a small part of the reason is because I would listen to Bible songs and Barney music in the car when the kids were younger to keep them entertained.  When I had the rare occasion to drive by myself, I relished the quiet.  But that was many years ago and I still drive in silence.  While it is conducive to inward reflection, I am not sure that it is good for the psyche.  I lament that I am not creative, yet I do nothing to help exercise those creative muscles that have lain dormant for so long.

Many writing websites suggest making playlists to coordinate with the work in progress.  While I would have never thought of that idea on my own, I can see the advantages.  In fact, I thought I might like to try that.  But then I stopped in my tracks:  I have no idea what music to consider?  It has been a long time since Donny Osmond, Genesis, and Chicago.  I am not even sure how I would go about bringing music back into my life, but it is an interest worth pursuing, I think.

Patti Digh embraces creativity in the midst of life. She says to let go of perfection and just do.  She says to get messy and just let the creative mind take over.  This doesn’t sound like rocket science to me – and yet I am totally stymied.  Make a mess?  Don’t have a plan?  Ignore rules?  These are such foreign concepts to my highly functional Left-brain way of thinking.  But at this point I think I have used only one side of the brain too much.  I don’t want to change who I am — I just want to learn to enjoy who I am.  I want to have some fun in life.  I want to let go of worry and learn to embrace the moment.  I want to increase faith so that it is not solely up to me anymore.

So today when I woke up on the second gift of a snow day – I decided that I would play.  I am sure that I will continue to “should” on myself — but when I am conscious of that, I plan to tell that still small voice to go take a hike.  I shall make a mess with scrapbooking and I shall freeze outside taking pictures.  I shall enjoy the process without worrying that skill is lacking.  I shall give myself permission to be joyful today.


  • Vivienne

    Oh Molly, this left me with a sense of anxiousness as I am a 'should' person too. Even as I sit reading this, I keep thinking I should be doing the ironing, or I should be laying the table for dinner. I know I need to calm down a bit and enjoy my life, but it is so hard. I really think I need to read the last two books you mentioned.

  • Dave and Tami

    All I can think of to say is "Wow". Don't worry about your creativity – you have it in great heaps in the writing category. That is a beautifully written, introspective, revealing post. I admire your diligence to the "shoulds" because I definitely do not share your organized, scheduled side. And I also admire your desire to "have fun". I hope your snow day is relaxing, creative and FUN!

  • Sandy Nawrot

    I am a bit of an overachiever as well, but I have mellowed over time. I have been known, in the middle of cleaning the house, to sit down and make a phone call to a good friend, or play a few games of solitaire! Bravo to you for letting yourself play. You should carve out a little bit time every week to do that!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, Molly, I could have written this. I certainly could have written it several months ago. I have an evil little woman that lives in my mind (I call her a really sinful name that I won't repeat), but she is a small troll who jumps up and down and tells me what I SHOULD BE DOING and that I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I can't stand her and have been getting better at telling her to SHUT UP!!

    It's hard keeping all the plates spinning and all the balls in the air. Dear friend, I suspect part of this is worry over your mother's condition and the stress that places on you. Maybe not, but it doesn't help.

    Good for you for taking some time and resolving to have a "joyful" day. I pray that joy will occur in your life more and more as you work with your inner voices and turn your thoughts to less anxious paths. Hugs big time! Always feel free to email me and rant about whatever. I do understand and I will always listen. 🙂

  • Silke

    Dear Molly, I think most of us can totally relate to what you wrote! I am such a "should" person it's not funny! I constantly have to engage in self talk giving myself permission to just play, to be imperfect, to enjoy my day. It does get easier with time! So, did you play today? Did you make a mess?!? Love, SIlke

  • Carola Bartz

    Molly, I can completely relate to what you've written because in big parts I'm a should-person as well. I'm working on kicking that "should" in the butt which of course doesn't always work, but there has been improvement. While I could always let housework be housework (i.e. I just didn't do it if I didn't want to) this is different with exercise, preparing my classes etc. Often I can't even sit down during the day and just read a book. That is one of my goals for 2011, to be more at ease and just sit and read. BTW, your writing is excellent and a mere joy to read. You definiteley ARE a creative person.

  • Nan

    What a great post Molly! You summed up what I have started trying to do… but could never put in those wonderful words and phrases. The "shoulds" are a hard habit to break but I know we can do it.

    I'm jealous of your 2 snow days. Much of Vermont was closed today, but not the northern part where I live. I promise if we get one this year I will leave the should's behind and enjoy more free day!

  • Kathleen

    As always I can relate to much of what you struggle with Molly. I have learned or really am still learning that every day doesn't need to have a plan. I can and should let a Saturday just unfold. Maybe I will watch a movie or read a book or stare out into space or whatever but I don't have to fill my day with "must dos" and be on a schedule. It is definitely a work in progress but I am learning and your blog is continuing to inspire me to work on this so thanks for sharing!

  • Jenners

    I think so many people (women especially) can relate to your feelings of stress and guilt. I do think we need to let go of our impossible expectations of perfection and the shoulds we carry around like weights and just do what we can and take time to ENJOY life as we live it. Good luck … I wish you joy and peace and more music!

  • Susan

    Really good post, Molly. I don't struggle with shoulds, so much as guilt over not doing more. I lie at the opposite end of the spectrum, where sometimes getting things done is my challenge. And yet, I don't always relax and enjoy, either. I've made it a practice the last few years to try to be in the moment, wherever I am. It doesn't always work! and sometimes I find I don't want to be where I am, which is scary! and then I think, I want to create a life I can live in, and be in, and not worry about what other people think any more. So I really hope you played all day during your second snow day!

    I'm thrilled you got two snow days there, but wondering where the snow is for us, since we haven't had any kind of snow storm yet this winter, and barely any snow on the ground! I think it's all with you!

    Take care. Alot of older albums are on cd now, so all your favourites are going to be there at your music store. Not that they are old to me either, but in the younger generation's eyes they are, at least until they discover them on their own! lol who knew that my son would suddenly like Led Zeppelin one day! and the Rolling Stones!

  • Catherine Ensley

    Getting over the tyranny of "shoulds" is a moment-by-moment thing. We need to be aware of when we're doing it to ourselves. Our personality type (which we both share)has an image of what perfection looks like, and unfortunately, reality never meets our expectations. I'm trying to learn to enjoy the imperfection I see in things. I'm learning, when I goof up (in storytimes or other venue) to be an example of someone who can say, "It's okay to make a mistake," to my audience.

    Like you, I still don't listen to music very often. I find it far too distracting and I enjoy much more the precious free time I can sometimes spare to be a companion to my own thoughts … terribly necessary, when puzzling out the myriad details of a novel.

  • bibliophiliac

    This is an eerie coincidence, because I was just mentally comparing myself to you; you actually finished NaNoWriMo (for me it was NaNoFailMo), you teach (as I do), have a family, and seem to do so much. I love that you shared these thoughts with your readers, and I appreciate your musings.

  • Lisa

    As moms we couldn't spend as much time doing one chore as our kids did because they only had a few things to do and plenty of time to do them. We, on the other hand, have so many things that need to be done.

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