I Should… or I Choose to? – by Mary Lou Stark

I’m an introvert who tends to over-think many situations. In my memory I was the obedient daughter who tried to please everyone – didn’t make waves – tried to do the “right thing” in every situation. I would try to figure out what I should do in every situation rather than what I wanted to do or chose to do.

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One of my more dramatic memories is from the summer before my husband Frank began graduate school in social work. He was about to leave his job at the Topeka, KS, state psychiatric day program and several psychiatry residents from the Menninger Foundation were finishing up their placements and ready to graduate.

We lived in what at the time felt like a luxury apartment complex, complete with clubhouse and pool. We offered to host a staff graduation party on a Friday evening in late June.

On Sunday we would be leaving for a week in Toronto for me to present a professional paper at an international conference of people who worked with the blind.

Our plan was to move into subsidized housing in August prior to the start of graduate school. We had talked with our current apartment manager about having a clean up service come in Saturday morning to be sure everything was in good shape after the party.

The party was great fun. There were lots of candles in the party room to create a festive atmosphere along with dim lights and incense. There was a mix of good food and drink. A few of the guests went swimming in the pool along with some of the other residents of the complex. I joined them.

And as is common in a group of people in that professional field there was more than one conversation about when a cigar is a cigar and when it isn’t. (Echoes of debates about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.)

A great time was had by all.

Shift to Saturday morning. There was a heavy pounding on the front door. Before we could get from our bedroom to answer the door, the manager had it open. He was so red in the face that I was afraid he might collapse with a heart attack.

His first question was “Who let the n….. in the pool?” My response was that she was our friend. She was, in fact, a well-respected, experienced psychiatric nurse and I was scheduled to tutor her young son in math that morning. They were due to arrive within the hour.

The manager continued with his rant. He told Frank that I was the wrong kind of woman and he would be well advised to divorce me and get a different wife. Other residents in the complex had been upset because our friend had gone swimming the evening before – a warm summer evening in Kansas.

One of his parting remarks was that he could not guarantee the safety of our belongings while we were out of the country during the following week.

So, we went into problem-solving mode.

Most of the people who had been at the party were busy getting ready for graduation ceremonies that afternoon.  Friends who had helped us move in the past were tied up in military reserve training that weekend. We didn’t know if our new place was ready to move into or not – it was in a new housing development.

We got some help from family, found some boxes, rented a U-Haul truck, and got moved that afternoon.

They had just started construction on the building we expected to move into. Of the five units that were available, only one had a refrigerator. That made our choice for us.

We were able to avoid a confrontation between the manager and our friend by rescheduling her son’s tutoring appointment until after our return from Canada.

And when we were sitting exhausted around my parents living room that evening my mother, while still appearing to support us in our situation, asked the question “You can see his side of it can’t you? After all, you are leaving those apartments and he needs to be able to keep them all leased.”

And here came the echoes. There was a specific way I should have reacted to the entire situation.

I have never regretted hosting the party or swimming with my friend. I have remained glad that Frank thought I was the right kind of wife and we stayed together.

Were there things we could have done differently? Probably.

Did we learn more about dealing with a landlord? Definitely.

Have I used my parents’ question with my own kids? I hope not. I have encouraged them to look at potential consequences before making a decision though.

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As I have “matured” and learned more about myself and my place in the world, I have learned that there is a real difference between choosing to do a particular thing and doing it because I should do it.

When I choose to do it, I enter into the activity with a light-hearted spirit. I relax and enjoy the people I am with and the experience.

When doing something I should do, I am anxious and watching for other peoples’ reactions to what I am doing and how the experience is going.

As you approach a situation that you are uncertain about, pause to ask yourself if this is something that you should do or that you want to choose to do. Your answer will affect your experience.

How has your attitude affected your experiences in the past? Please share below.

You can learn more about me and what I do at:



About author

This article was written by Mary Lou Stark

Welcome! Is writing a book on your bucket list or part of your business plan? Are you ready to venture forth on that adventure? Most people find the journey to be easier and more successful with a guide. As your Book Enchantress I will help you gain clarity about your topic and audience. Then we will set about writing your book – the one that shares your message in the manner that draws in your reader. Be it fiction or non-fiction. Retired from the US Library of Congress I have been writing and evaluating the writing of others for over 30 years. Find out more at www.bookenchantress.com and Facebook.com/marylou.stark.39


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