March 5, 2014

9 Things I Have Learnt Since Removing “Should” From My Vocabulary. ~ Alice Manhire

Should. Could. Would. Did.

Six months ago, I changed my life.

I had a “successful” career, a partner who loved me, a beautiful house with a big TV, a circle of friends and a loving, supportive family. Why then, could I not get out of bed? Why was I lying there so desperately unhappy, unmotivated and lonely?

My life was picture perfect; I had done everything I should.

There it was, that word. I should have finished school and gone to university, I should have taken promotions and more responsibility, I should have been trying to start a family with my partner at 30 years old. Should. Should. Should. The word haunted me.

So, I looked at what I could do. How could I live the next 30 years of my life and know that I was true to myself and did everything I could to create happiness on a daily basis?

I quit my job, broke up my relationship, said goodbye to my family and friends and moved to the other side of the world. Since then I have been learning. Here is some of what I have learnt about myself since I let go of my shoulds.

1. That I own my life

No one else will live it for you. There is only one shot. That moment in the future that is going to make your life what you have always wanted? It’s not going to magically turn up. You have to go out and make it happen.

I have now created my life to be what I want it to be, and I own it. Every minute. If I want to stare at pigeons for an hour, then that’s what I do. If I want to take a nap, then I do. If I want to eat healthy, then I do. If I want to eat a bowl of ice-cream with goddamn chocolate sauce, I do. If I want to practice yoga, then I do. If I want to think positively, then I do.

I stopped all the things that were not contributing to my experience being exactly what I wanted it to be and learnt the ability to look at everything else that I couldn’t control, with new eyes, knowing that I could at least control how I felt about it. I don’t do anything because I should. I don’t think, “Oh I should do that,” (in some unspecified time in the future), it happens or it doesn’t.

I do it, or I don’t.

2. That I am worthy of my love

Can you truly love anyone without loving yourself first? Can a drug addict mother truly love her children? Can a soldier love his family? I don’t know the answers but I know that I have never been able to love another enough because of my own poor self worth and belief that I didn’t deserve to accept that love.

With constant messages of inadequacy, comparison and the promise of being “a better you,” it is hard to love yourself in a modern society. By all means, I still haven’t conquered it all, but I have begun the process by loving myself starting at a cellular level. I fully surrendered to love myself and have opened my heart so now I know how to love others.

3. That I can’t trust my thoughts

Trust your intuition; follow your heart, first impressions count, etc, etc. but you cannot rely on your mind. It can trick you and provide you with false information so quickly that you don’t know it is happening.

I meditate, practice self-awareness and objectively observe my own mind. Ask yourself why. Question situations and think slow. Be careful with the stories you tell yourself, look where my stories of shoulds got me! I carried shame and guilt from stories I had told myself, I had worked myself into a situation where I barely knew what I thought or if I could have an independent opinion. I believed everything my ego said and forgot how to think slow.

By no means am I fully in control of the mind now, that’s why it is called a practice. But through the practice, I can grow, make better decisions and live honestly.

 4. That I have an innate desire to be outside

If I don’t go outside enough I get a bit “funny.” I need open spaces, water, plants and animals. I am horrified at how often I used to spend indoors, on a screen. How easily you can get lost jumping from screen to screen!

Actually, stop reading this right now and go outside. Seriously, go outside and breathe. Find a plant, an animal, some representation of nature and look at it, form a connection. Trust me, you will feel better.

Whether it’s raining or not, I get outside and walk. It wakes me up, puts things in perspective and hey, might even give me something to Instagram! (Yes, the irony.)

It could be the forest, a field, the ocean, a lake, a park, a river or even a community vegetable garden. I seek out these spaces, and they nourish me.

5. That there is enough time in the day, for what matters

When you think about your childhood summers and how the days seemed long and the weeks seemed to stretch out for months? That is how my life feels now. Since I stopped living a 9-5 of shoulds, my time is my own. Being busy is no longer a status symbol I buy into.


I am never bored, I am productive and profitable. I turn off my phone, stop checking Facebook and look out the window. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Read that book. Write that story. Visit that art gallery. Go somewhere new. Get lost. Learn something new. Write a letter to your mother—if you can, give it to her. Take a qualitative approach to your time and there is always enough.

Let go of the things you think you should be spending your time on and do the things you want to. Leave emails unanswered. Dance, on your own, in the kitchen (this is my favourite place to do it). Run around in a park with a stranger’s dog. Make stupid faces to the kid on the bus. He will make them back. Talk to your friends. Ask how they are. Talk about how you are. Stretch. Breathe.

6. That I can talk to strangers

Meeting new people was one of the hardest things for me to do. I was socially lazy. I would spend time on my own or with family instead of putting myself out there. I didn’t believe that I had anything to contribute.

Now, I have met: artists, mothers, survivors, uncles, victims, daughters, politicians, the sick, the famous, the healthy, the inspiring, sons, designers, tasters, inspirers, leaders and followers, architects, fathers, teachers, hunters, musicians, shearers, soldiers, intellectuals, chefs, creators, discoverers, believers, comedians, writers and guides and they all have a story.

I have cried when I heard some, I have listened to some in disbelief.  Everyone has a battle, a challenge, and a hope for the future. Some I am so grateful to be able to now call dear friends and others, a fleeting acquaintance. All have enriched my life, and meeting them has encouraged me to meet the next one and know that I have a story worth hearing, too.

7. That I don’t need that much

I can carry everything I need. It fits into my pack, Nigel. Clothes, toiletries and books for writing and reading. I appreciate design, ceramics, fabrics and paintings and spent some time and money collecting these. Now they sit in stasis in my house and in boxes.

Do I miss the Dutch tea set? The original print that hung in the hallway? The fabric on the sofa that I spent so much time deciding on? No. The bits and pieces that I surrounded myself with were creations of my should-life. They will be there one day again but are superfluous to my needs and do not define who I am.

Nothing in Nigel does either. I eat when I’m hungry, wear durable and warm clothes, and sleep somewhere safe and warm. It’s so basic it’s easy.

8. That I want to give

When I got to the point of knowing that I was happy—genuinely, basically, happy—I wanted to share this. Not in an authoritarian way, but by helping others create space in their lives to spend time getting to know and understand their true selves, and maybe removing should from their lexicon also.

Teaching yoga, writing and having wholehearted connections with people is how I do this. I want to give people the tools, understanding and strength to do what they need to do to improve their own happiness. Because really, that’s all it comes down to.

On your deathbed, will you worry about the assignment that you didn’t get an A for? Will you regret the time that you didn’t spend with your friends and family because you were working? Will you look back at your life and feel it wasted? Or will you re-live your happiness?

9. That everyone dies

We avoid this topic. We do, it’s a deeply biological reaction that we do not want to accept that death is a reality.

I have met those who have come so close to death that their body and mind could not handle the stimulation of leaves blowing in the wind outside their hospice window.

I have met those who have died, for 18 minutes, after being shot in war and then resuscitated.  What do those people know that everyone else doesn’t? Nothing. All they understand is that life is so weak, delicate and frail that it can be taken in an instant.

We know this too, yet we haven’t come close enough to be reminded of it. It isn’t a morbid approach to life, it is the full approach of living with an appreciation of your experiences and the desire to spend the time you do have, happy.


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Editorial Assistant: Emily Bartran / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: elephant archives


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Alice Manhire