How To Choose MUST Over SHOULD

All too often, we feel that we are not living the fullness of our lives because we are not expressing the fullness of our gifts.

Do you ever have the sense of …  being helped by hidden hands? – Bill Moyers.

All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. – Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth

Why am I here?

A job: Something typically done from 9 to 5 for pay.
A career: A system of advancements and promotions over time where rewards are used to optimize behavior.
A calling: Something that we feel compelled to do regardless of fame or fortune; the work is the reward.

Which of these do you currently have: a job? a career? a calling?

The more I discovered about his life and the more I delved into his art, the more the two converged. “It’s not what an artist does that counts, but what he is,” Picasso said. But his art was so thoroughly autobiographical that what he did was what he was. –  Arianna Huffington on Pablo Picasso.

What he did was what he was. What if: 

Our job = Our career = Our calling

Who you are = What you do

You no longer go to work. You are the work.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. – Rumi

There are two paths in life: should and must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And everyday we get to choose.

SHOULD is how other people want us to live our lives…expectations…small, innocuous, accommodated….influential systems of though….live for someone or something other than ourselves…smooth…clear rewards…plentiful options.

MUST is who we are…believe…our truest most authentic self…our convictions, passions, deepest urges, desires…connecting to our own ideals…hard work and constant effort…no road map…no guarantees…feel really alive…greatest thing we can do with our lives.

What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum. – Vincent Van Gogh

But if MUST is so great, why don’t we choose it every day?

To know this, let us look at the origin of SHOULD.

Shoulds are put on you from the moment you are born….a normal healthy process from parents to children… also from community, culture, generation…they help us navigate the world…as we grow….you need to become your own person, have your own voice, conviction, opinion…but we linger there….like a prison.

“Are you familiar with Gurdjieff?” Asked a friend. “He was a spiritual teacher around the turn of the century, and one day, he posed a question to his students – “If a prisoner wants to escape from prison, what’s the first thing he needs to know?”

You need to know the guard, one student said. You need to find the key’s, said another.

“No”, Gurdjieff said, “The first thing that you need to know if you want to escape from prison is that you are in prison. Until you know that, no escape is possible.”

You need to find out why you are not free….you need to see if your “shoulds” are imprisoning you and what should to keep and what should to discard. Unless you examine your “shoulds” you will never get to MUST.

Look at your shoulds and ask of them these questions:

Where did you come from?
Are you true for me?
Do I want to keep holding on to you?

It’s your life — but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being. – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Some tools can help: therapists, counsellors and the like…the Enneagram, the Empty Chair Technique( your MUST and SHOULD are going to talk to each other). You need to shed your shoulds like the snake sheds its skin; otherwise you will not grow and not growing means slowly and surely dying.

Siddhartha stood still and for a moment an icy chill stole over him.He shivered inwardly like a small animal, like a bird or a hare, when he realized how alone he was. He had been homeless for years and had not felt like this. Now he did feel it. Previously, when in deepest meditation, he was still his father’s son, he was a Brahmin of high standing, a religious man. Now he was only Siddhartha, the awakened; otherwise nothing else. He breathed in deeply and for
a moment he shuddered. Nobody was so alone as he. He was no nobleman, belonging to any aristocracy, no artisan belonging to any guild and finding refuge in it, sharing its life and language. . . . But he, Siddhartha, where did he belong? Whose life would he share? Whose language would he speak?
At that moment, when the world around him melted away, when he stood alone like a star in the heavens, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of icy despair, but he was more firmly himself than ever. That was the last shudder of his awakening, the last pains of birth. Immediately he moved on again and began to walk quickly and impatiently, no longer homewards, no longer to his father, no longer looking backwards. – Herman Hesse, Siddhartha.

And now, we go on to MUST.

The path to must is a path we create. It begins in pathlessness, nothingness, emptiness – a tabula rasa, as Aristotle called it.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path. – Joseph Campbell.

But if I don’t know what my MUST is? How do I find it? What if it changes over time? Does everybody have one?

Your MUST will not appear to you full-formed. It gradually grows. To discover your MUST, a few things can help:

  • Childhood: What were you like as a child? What did you enjoy doing? Were you solitary or did you prefer a crowd? Independent or collaborative? Day optimizer or day dreamer? Ask around for stories about what you were like as a kid. They hold the earliest seeds of your MUST.
  • Look within: If you had one day to pursue some idea, activity or project, what are three things that come to mind first? Things that you do just for fun. Something a friend does that you feel envious about. Things you do when you are procrastinating. Fantasies and activities that gives you chills. Sights, smells, sounds, or sensations that give you butterflies in your stomach.
  • Write your obituary: Write two versions- one, the life that you want to have and the second, the obituary you are heading for. Don’t worry about being practical. Consider how your life will progress along the path it is on. And then consider what might be written if you heed your call.
  • Acquire one new skill a month. They may be unrelated  but because they have one common element- you..they will integrate and cross-pollinate.

Look for patterns from the above…connections…recurring themes….your MUST will slowly appear.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.- Mark Twain

Once you know your MUST, you cannot be satisfied with the SHOULD. And this is why MUST is elusive. This is why we avoid admitting what we want. This is why our deepest desires sit in hiding for a lifetime. And this is why the journey is so exciting and scary.

Write down your MUST…and keep it constantly in view.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. – Abraham Maslow.

I know what my MUST is…now what?

When you discover your must, you get scared and your defence mechanisms go up:

  • Who am I to explore such selfish interests?
  • What if I choose must and make people angry?
  • But what if want to grow within a company I love?
  • How do I explain any of this to my boss?
  • How will I pay the rent? my loans? eat?
  • What if I am the boss?
  • Can I choose MUST with a peer group, friend, colleague, team?
  • What if I can’t grow within a company that I love? What then? Will I let people down?
  • If I want to choose must when do I start?
  • How long is this going to take?
  • How might I find more time in the day?
  • How will I pay rent?
  • Do I have to quit my job?
  • What if I try to find my calling and I don’t find it?
  • What will my peers think? my family? my significant other?
  • How might I best describe my journey to others? What if they don’t understand?
  • How might I create a safe space to explore within my existing reality?
  • How can I find more time?
  • Do my ideas matter?
  • If I want to choose must, do I need anything?
  • How might I balance my MUST with my existing obligations?

Let us look at the practical issues:

Money: If you want to get by on this planet, you must make money. If doing what you love does not pay the bills, then you must find another way to make money. But the key thing is not to let go of what you love. Look at ways you can adjust your life so that you do not kill your MUST. You can change jobs, work at nights or weekends and even find a job that helps you grow your MUST…anything is okay…but keep your MUST going.

While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish. – Philip Glass, composer.

How much money is enough money?

Must-have-money vs Nice-to-have-money

Must-have money is what we really need to live. At its most basic it includes food and shelter. Nice-to-have money is nice to have but we often make the mistake that we really need it. Beyond the absolutes, money is a game, and you can play it any way you want.

The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only with our Food, and Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our night-clothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and leaves at the end of its burrow! The poor man is wont to complain that this is a cold world; and to cold, no less physical than social, we refer directly a great part of our ails. The summer, in some climates, makes possible to man a sort of Elysian life.Fuel, except to cook his Food, is then unnecessary; the sun is his fire, and many of the fruits are sufficiently cooked by its rays; while Food generally is more various, and more easily obtained, and Clothing and Shelter are wholly or half unnecessary. At the present day, and in this country, as I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost. Yet some, not wise, go to the other side of the globe, to barbarous and unhealthy regions, and devote themselves to trade for ten or twenty years, in order that they may live — that is, keep comfortably warm — and die in New England at last. The luxuriously rich are not simply kept comfortably warm, but unnaturally hot; as I implied before, they are cooked, of course à la mode.

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature, or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race of men. But why do men degenerate ever? What makes families run out? What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations? Are we sure that there is none of it in our own lives? The philosopher is in advance of his age even in the outward form of his life. He is not fed, sheltered, clothed, warmed, like his contemporaries. How can a man be a philosopher and not maintain his vital heat by better methods than other men?

When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above? — for the nobler plants are valued for the fruit they bear at last in the air and light, far from the ground, and are not treated like the humbler esculents, which, though they may be biennials, are cultivated only till they have perfected their root, and often cut down at top for this purpose, so that most would not know them in their flowering season. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Will choosing must make you rich? Yes, not necessarily with money but with the priceless items life can give, like watching the sun rise, smelling the rain, having time to do what you really love, taking a pointless bike ride…etc.

Time: You make time for what you want. If you do not prioritize what you want or care to do, consider the possibility that you do not really care or want to do those things. You need to know what you want and the more intimate you are with what you want, the more self-aware you will be about how you spend your time.

Myself, I have the ambition to live 300 years. I will not live 300 years. Maybe I will live one year more. But I have the ambition. Why will you not have the ambition? Why? Have the greatest ambition possible. You want to be immortal? Fight to be immortal. Do it. You want to make the most fantastic art of movie? Try. If you fail, is not important. We need to try. – Alejandro Jodorowsky

Yes, but I have five kids and a mortgage. Yes, we all have obligations and time constraints. But we need to find pockets of time to grow our MUST. 10 minutes of free time, whenever you get, throughout the day, grow your MUST. And age is no limit. How long will you wait to honor who you are?

Space: You need to allocate a space, a room, a desk, which is private and safe for you to do your MUST. Play in your space. Use new tools and methods. And work in solitude. And have some time each day when you are alone with yourself.

Yes, money, time and space can make you not choose MUST but the more real reason is:

Vulnerability and fear: What if….?  And we turn away from our path. Writing your fears and examining them may help you to overcome them…ultimately it is upto you.

But…you must begin.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with single step. – Lao-Tzu.

Ask yourself: What is one action that you can take to honour your calling – TODAY? Don’t make a leap. Start small. Take a small step. And another one. And another one…the path becomes clearer and you start to know what you are doing. There is no goal. The process is the goal. Then you will experience this:

Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí. – Salvador Dali.

So, when you follow your MUST, you decide to work everyday, most likely alone, with no clear or definite goal for yourself, for an indefinite time because that is what is your nature. You will fail and you have to decide to keep doing your MUST and not doubt and just DO.

MUST is a choice you make every single day. Today. Tomorrow. Again and Again. MUST. Because this is what you are. And then you share your MUST with others, lighting up their world along the way. Because-

It’s not enough to reach the treasure, one must bring it back.-Roger Lipsey

You are alone when you do your MUST and you become your MUST and doing and being all seamlessly blends into one and because you are the WORLD the WORLD is soaked by your MUST and you and the WORLD become ONE fluid dance of the DIVINE.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.- Howard Thurman

Connect your MUST with the world…a blog..instagram…stories on the bus…volunteer…work with kids…paint…write..clubs..etc

Ripples go out from your work and entwine with the rest of the world, like the redwood tree forests and we become the world and change the world and change ourselves…after all everything is ONE.

To act is to modify the shape of the world. Jean-Paul Sartre.

When we do this…we go and live in a place beyond…where the journey and destination are ONE and….

…Music heard so deeply, that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts. -T.S. Eliot in Four Quarters.

The source of your MUST and the source of everyone’s MUST is the DIVINE…and when you live in it you just outpour what your natural outpouring is…

I dream my painting and then I paint my dream- Vincent van Gogh.

In its purest sense, MUST is why we are here to begin with, and choosing it is the journey of our lives.

If you believe that you have something special inside of you, and you feel it’s about time you gave it a shot, honour that calling in some way – today.
If you feel a knot in your stomach because you can see the enormous distance between your dreams and your daily reality, do one thing to tighten your grip on what you want – today.
If you’ve been peering down the road to MUST but can’t quite make the choice, dig a little deeper and find out what’s stopping you – today.
Because there is a recurring choice in life, and it occurs at the intersection of two roads. MUST and SHOULD. We arrive at this place again and again.


-inspired and extracted from the book: The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna( go and read this book)



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