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Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

“The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” ~Unknown

This is a phrase that had become a central theme in my life. One night, during one of my all too frequent bouts of insomnia, I sat at my computer and decided to write about my discontent, my middle aged angst.

I have no idea where the words came from, but once I typed the first sentence it was like a river overflowing its banks. Turns out, this was the key, the cure for my crisis. Yes, I am forty-two and a walking cliché, a woman on the edge, a burned out physician whose career has become all consuming.

I have always been an artist at heart. Nothing moves me more than music, art, books, anything that is the product of the creative process. I actually had dreams of being a theatre performer. But for whatever reason I never believed I had enough talent.

No, my lot in life was passionate bystander. So of course I went to medical school. This was a perfect way to please my parents, to defend against financial insecurity, to prove to anyone in doubt that I was indeed intelligent and successful.

See, the thing is I took a path that seemed right at the time—and who wouldn’t want a career chosen by a seventeen-year-old kid?! I followed all the rules. I listened to my parents; I behaved myself and embarked on a life that was clearly meant for someone else.

Many times I considered leaving, but with each passing year I would dig in deeper, letting debt and fear of disapproval and other silliness make my decisions for me. Oddly enough, being a psychiatrist doesn’t necessarily translate into self-awareness.

There I was, after fifteen years in public psychiatry, sitting at a computer in the middle of the night. I was grateful for the privilege of caring for youth in crisis but exhausted and lost, longing to be creative.

So what’s a psychiatrist to do? Reflect and analyze until my brain hurts. Reading about my dilemma, clearly outlined on the page, set in motion a plan to heal myself.

I decided that no more would I do things safely. I would abandon my usual tactic of pleasing everyone else. I would live in the opposite. I would do something extraordinary like so many of the amazing kids who sought my care had done.

What if I did the unthinkable? What if I said to hell with convention and what’s expected of me? What if for once I turned off my head and turned on my heart?

I decided to turn my life upside down, shake it well, and see what comes out.

After a vacation filled with signs that running away to France was the thing to do, I made a deposit on a house for a year in the Burgundy region. I resigned from my big career, sold my house, my car, and most of my possessions and kept only my lovely husband.

No, I don’t speak French but I will learn. No, I don’t have a lot of money to fund my folly (this ain’t no Eat, Pray, Love tour, baby) but I will simplify my life and somehow I’ll figure it out. You name it, I’m changing it.

I’ve even decided to stop dyeing my hair and embrace my naturally gray (I mean steel with chrome highlights) hair.

What I do have is a quest for joy, a need for being on the path that feels right to me. I also have a wonderful husband who has not for a moment doubted me or questioned the desire to run away.

He is a gift every day, and I cannot thank him enough for being up for such a bold endeavor.

Since making this decision I have a profound sense of freedom and release. I have started writing about the journey, and my blog has become one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. Doing something creative, however small, has been like an enormous therapy session.

For once I feel like I’m going in the right direction. Physician, heal thyself indeed!

I have no idea what lies ahead for me but that’s the point really. Maybe this is too much change for one little brain. Maybe it will be a disaster. But maybe it will be just what the doctor ordered.

At the very least, I can stop thinking that I should have or could have. And that is a gift that has no measure.

Wacky or wise? Walking away or walking toward? I’ll let you know in a year…

Photo at WTL Photos

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  • Sarah

    This article spoke to me (as so many on here have). Good luck. I wish I had the courage to do what I want instead of what everyone else wants from me. You’re an inspiration.

  • Di

    I feel the same. I banned woulda, coulda, shoulda from my brain a couple of years ago and have since quit my great job, sold my awesome little car, and transplanted myself (and my lovely bf) in Africa. We have such a simple life now…my family says I am nuts, that I will regret this one day, but alas, I am unable to say woulda, shoulda coulda, so I know I will always be walking forward…just like you 🙂

  • Di

    I feel the same. I banned woulda, coulda, shoulda from my brain a couple of years ago and have since quit my great job, sold my awesome little car, and transplanted myself (and my lovely bf) in Africa. We have such a simple life now…my family says I am nuts, that I will regret this one day, but alas, I am unable to say woulda, shoulda coulda, so I know I will always be walking forward…just like you 🙂

  • Terri

    This is me. I’m in the process of doing the same thing. Only for me, it’s Ireland and not France. We’ve spent this long doing what we were supposed to do, now it’s time to do what our hearts call us to do. And you’re right, it is one of the most freeing feelings in the world.

  • Bravo to you, and to your hubby!! What courage and guts it takes to toss aside ones safety net of security, stability, comfort and predictability and be willing to open oneself up to a world of unknowns; but with your wisdom, passion and adventuresome spirit, you invite exciting and new opportunities, risk-taking, and wonderful growth and learning into your life. You truly are “turning on your heart”. As one of my favorite quotes states, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. (Neal Walsh) I look forward to reading your tales of your new life (on your blog). I’m not sure who’s more gutsy – you for initiating all this and shedding your old skin, or your husband for going along on this ride.

  • I too made the great escape and now call Roatan, Honduras home. Thanks for helping getting the word out that it can be done. And thank you Tiny Budhha for giving such a great forum to spread the news.

  • Hi Di,
    It took my family a few years to realize I’m right where I should be. I’m happy, safe, and living the simple life I didn’t know was possible until I took the leap. I’m originally from Ontario, Canada, but have called Roatan, Honduras home since 2007.

  • Ann Marie

    You go girl! No matter what happens no one can take away the decision you made to follow your heart. In the long run, that’s all that matter.

  • It takes a great deal of courage to examine your life and decide to make such a bold change. I am just learning to feel okay with big changes, the unknown looming in my future and feeling adventurous instead of fearful. I really admire your willingness to try something everyone else probably thinks is “crazy” and it’s so wonderful to hear how supportive your husband is as well. I wish you all the best in France!

  • Why is it that it takes us 42 years to discover where our true passion lies? What is it that deters us?

    It’s funny, in a sense, that age seems to have no boundaries. 42 and 25, considering the same big questions — who am I and where am I going? An inclination and a dream. In fact, I’ve been considering running off to France myself and been pondering my creative potential.

    I think you lead by example and are a good reminder that passion and creativity are what move the world. Thank-you for your inspiration!

    “For once I turned off my head and turned on my heart”

  • What a wonderful post to read by someone of “a certain age!” We are all born with gifts and talents, but they are so easily lost along the way. This process of rediscovering yours will benefit you and everyone around you. Au revoir and blessings for the journey…

  • janet

    Very inspiring!!!

  • Bee

    It takes a lot of courage to do what you did- truly an inspiration!
    This article resonates with me a lot.
    Currently I am pre-med and applying to medical schools for the same reasons you posted above, yet I’m more inclined towards the arts, craving to do something creative. The only difference is I’m 24. Thank you sooo much for writing this. It really has opened my eyes. I hope I can be brave like you and take the first step to change. No more woulda, coulda, shoulda.

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  • Kylieray

    Wow this is so inspiring. I love things like this that just urge you to take on the world, jump out of the daily rag race and live before we die a slow and painful death. But I still like to beleive in a little thing called destiny even though we think we make some choices conciously there may be a path prederminded for us. Like in the film A Wonderful After Life. Where in the film Clarence comes to earth to tell George what his life would have coulda have and shoulda have been like had he not existed. In the film he learns that although we try to go crazy with the idea of coulda woulda shoulda, its important just live without the urge to do so in certain ways.

  • Kylieray

    Wow this is so inspiring. I love things like this that just urge you to take on the world, jump out of the daily rag race and live before we die a slow and painful death. But I still like to beleive in a little thing called destiny even though we think we make some choices conciously there may be a path prederminded for us. Like in the film A Wonderful After Life. Where in the film Clarence comes to earth to tell George what his life would have coulda have and shoulda have been like had he not existed. In the film he learns that although we try to go crazy with the idea of coulda woulda shoulda, its important just live without the urge to do so in certain ways.

  • lin

    You have mirrored my thoughts exactly but the great thing is is that you have put it in action. Bravo! Everything starts to heal when there is self-awareness, especially when you are living it in truth! You have motivated me, thank you!! I don’t know what to do about my husband though……..

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  • Whoa! Thank God I have read this. Now it is confirmed that I am not alone in this world as being a ‘lost soul’. Lol. I can relate with the issues of following thy parents and so I took and became a nurse; behaving as someone less prone to social disgrace; keeping up with the everyday demands of living and paying debts. Enough of it already. Right now I have to put things into perspective first as with what to do with what I currently have to bargain for my future escape from the worldly demands. God’s plans are far more better than man’s and so I have to trust Him with all these things. The world is ‘just awesome’ as National Geographic would say. There’s just too much to see, feel, hear, touch and taste in this short life! 😉

  • Jdoncarlos

    Bobbi,

    I found you in France! Very happy for you and Bobbi.

    Jeannine, your neighbour on Mont Blanc.

  • Jdoncarlos

    Neil.