Shoulda Woulda Coulda

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference.”
~ Reinhold Niebuhr

Days 31-33: Life is full of should-haves. I should have gone to the gym. I should have brought an umbrella. I should have taken that job. I should have stood up for myself. I should have travelled more. I should have told him/her how I really feel. I should have saved more money. I should have been more helpful, more assertive, more careful, more bold, more considerate, more healthy, more creative, more positive… Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by should-haves they are like a little swarm of bees buzzing around in by brain. And all that noise makes it virtually impossible to hear my instincts and my inner positive Pollyanna (both of which are essential for any real sense of happiness and calm). Why do we beat ourselves up over things that we should have done? It does not create a more positive outcome, but simply a more negative opinion of ourselves.

Over the past few days my kind deeds have come pre-packaged in should-haves and what-ifs and the general uneasy feeling that I haven’t done enough. First, on Wednesday, I didn’t do anything kind at all. I was distracted and uninspired. I felt too busy with my own issues to help anybody else with theirs. I had an opportunity for kindness present itself on a silver platter and I did not take it. On the bus to work a man got on who had bought a concession ticket but was clearly not a concession. The driver would not believe he had bought it by mistake and the man did not have the money to pay the fare. Both driver and ‘non-concession man’ became very agitated and argued for a good few minutes before the man swore and stormed off the bus. It would have been so easy for me to step up and put my bus ticket through the machine again to pay for the man’s ride. It would have made the man happy, the bus driver less disgruntled, and saved everyone on the bus time. But I didn’t. I just watched it all take place with detached interest like every other person on the bus even though it was perfectly within my power to positively change the whole situation. For the rest of the day I felt like I had failed a small but important test.

On Thursday I went out and bought a reusable eco-cup for my Mum when she gets take-away coffee. If you drink several take-away coffees each week, just consider how many cups you would throw away in a year. And, as we all know, every time you drink out of an eco-cup instead of a disposable one, you save a whale.


Then on Friday as I was leaving the gym to go to work, I noticed a group of birds attacking something in a tree. I walked a little closer and realised it was a baby possum. As they swooped it ran down the tree and out onto a major road, where several cars slammed on their breaks and swerved to avoid it. Startled, it raced back up the tree only to be attacked by the birds once again. Why was the possum out in the daylight in the first place? Was their something wrong with it? How could I help it? I wanted to catch it but had nothing to throw over it. And even if I found a box or blanket, then what would I do with it? It would surely put up a good chase and then if it was caught, a good fight for freedom. Besides all this, if I didn’t leave right then I was going to be late for work. Eventually I decided to call Wires (Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation) and since they were out of office, left a message explaining the situation. As I left the little possum running frantically in between the frypan and the fire, I didn’t have very high hopes. All day Wires were fantastic about calling me back to check on the situation – but I had no information to give them, and since they couldn’t be sure the animal was still alive, they couldn’t send anyone out. I should have at least tried to catch it. I should have just called in late to work. The more I thought about it, the more disheartened I felt. I never did find out what happened to the possum, but I felt I had let the helpless little thing down. This morning I have donated some money to Wires (for all the amazing things they are doing, click the picture above), and its good to realise there is something I have the power to change in this situation.

Each and every minute of every day we are faced with choices, both trivial and life-changing (sometimes both at once). Sometimes – whether it be through fear, lack of knowledge or simply being human – we make a mistake. We leave the house without an umbrella on a rainy day. We don’t tell that person how much they mean to us and they slip out of our lives. We don’t help someone out when they most need it. But while we may have made a bad decision a minute ago, we must be grateful that in the minutes following that we have another choice to make. We can either lower our opinion of ourselves with ‘should-haves’, or be courageous and either change things if possible, or accept what has happened and take on the lessons it has provided us with. My lesson? I can’t help every single man, woman and gorgeous little possum, and I accept that. With serenity.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Helena
    May 08, 2011 @ 03:02:46

    I love your description of “should-haves” buzzing through your brain like bees. That’s exactly how I feel when I look back and self-assess. You are right, though, that you have to let some of them go or you will go mad. You are a kinder person than you realise for even NOTICING some of these situations.


  2. 1000 mitzvahs
    May 08, 2011 @ 11:20:03

    Such a thoughtful post. You are right there is a lot of shoulda woulda coulda in our lives and we need to remember that each moment, each day offers us a new chance to do good even if we “messed” up on doing good in the last moment! Remembering that is the challenge.


    • happydancecat
      May 09, 2011 @ 12:37:58

      Thanks Linda. Yeah I also have to remember that the whole point of this project was to stop focusing on problems (all the rudeness and selfishness in the world) and become part of the solutions (actively spreading kindness). As always, positivity is the key. 🙂


  3. Rachel
    May 09, 2011 @ 13:37:15


    I can completely relate! We all have those days, actually some people have whole lives that consist of those days alone. But the beauty is that you have acknowledged it and moved forward, setting your conscience free to try again. You are doing an amazing job, Pollyanna would proud (and even she had her days!). 🙂



    • happydancecat
      May 15, 2011 @ 22:23:52

      Thanks Rach. Its true that we are always our own worst critics! I don’t know that its possible to ever stop thinking of all the “should-haves” but I think it may be possible to just turn their volume down a bit so I can still hear the positive thoughts. Pollyanna power! 😀


  4. Eric Winger
    May 11, 2011 @ 15:22:13

    Opportunity only knocks once. Fortunately, there are a lot of knocks.

    You’re doing great!


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