SHOULD IS A WARNING SIGN
One year ago this week I laid, fully dressed–shoes on, even—on a hotel bed in Texas. CNN was blaring in the background, as is my hotel custom. I had come up to my room after speaking a few times. I had a few more sessions to do.
There had been other moments like this, building toward this, pointing to this. Sitting on my suitcase in the ladies room in the Houston airport, pumping and dumping (sorry, gentlemen)on my way to LA. I had to speak in LA on a Saturday night and San Francisco on that next Monday, but I was flying back in between because my baby was sick and couldn’t fly, and because I wanted to keep nursing him, especially while he was sick.
Another moment: I exploded with anger at my husband in St. Pancras station in London. We were on our way from London to Paris. It was June. Our children were happily munching on crisps and orange juice. My mother in law was helping to wrangle. But I was tired from speaking at several events and jetlagged and turned upside down by stress and upcoming deadlines. This was a serious red flag for me: if you can’t be happy in London in June, surrounded by your family, something on the inside has gone terribly wrong.
Because it’s all about the insides, right? We all know people who are miserable on mountaintops, and we all know people who are brimming with contentedness even when bills are going unpaid or health problems loom. It’s about the insides, and something had gone wrong on my insides.
I’m going to write about this for a while in a completely non-linear, messy, scrounging-at-the-corners way, hoping that maybe someone as tired and wrung out as I was then will feel like happiness is possible, like peace is possible, like lightness is possible again.
Because it is. That’s what I’m telling you: you can change your life, and you can find lightness and soul again. I know it because I’m finding it.
For me, the first step was admitting what was true, at first, only to myself. We all have these weird rules about what we should love and what should make us happy and how things shouldwork. Should is a warning sign, frankly. When you’re using the word should more and more often, it’s a sign that you’re living further and further from your truest, best self, a sign that you’re living for some other set of parameters or affirmations that you think will bring you happiness.
This is what I know: SHOULD never brings happiness.
I felt like I should be so happy because I was doing the things I thought I wanted to do. When Mac was a baby, I felt like I should never complain about how tired I was because I had longed for him so badly. When he didn’t sleep through the night for almost a year, I bit my tongue and didn’t complain because I should have been so happy. I didn’t let myself say I was tired and the math wasn’t working and I was losing my ability to love and taste and experience my life, because that felt like failure, like a stronger woman would have been able to manage it all.
And so I cried in a Houston airport bathroom and snapped at my husband in a London train station. I wept in our bedroom up at the lake while houseguests sat awkwardly downstairs, waiting for me to be the hostess with the mostest.
And then all at once, staring up at the ceiling in Texas I realized that I didn’t care anymore about SHOULD. If someone else wanted to try to live this life, frankly, they were more than welcome to try. Because I didn’t want it anymore. I wanted a new way of living, and I didn’t care what I had to admit about myself to get it.
I’m not as strong as you thought? Fine.
I have limitations I’ve been trying to hide? Here they are.
I’m not impressive? Doesn’t bother me a bit.
You can have all those labels and accolades. Because they haven’t helped me one bit.
What I wanted was a way of living that felt more like living and less like drowning.
And saying it out loud to myself was the first and most important step.