Should vs Must

“Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different—there aren’t options and we don’t have a choice.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.” – An excerpt from Elle Luna’s “The Crossroads of Should and Must”

This article hit me deep in the pit of my stomach.

For years I found comfort in fulfilling a long list of Shoulds. Should inevitably drove me into divorced and therapy, and then into a dark place where I felt little passion or feeling about anything at all. Should molded me into a woman that “had her shit together” but had no idea what she wanted out of life. But our subconscious has a way of awakening what is within, especially at low points in your life. That’s when I was confronted with Must.

Must is certainly a daunting call to action that sits comfortably at the core of your authentic self– feeding off the exciting and terrifying thought: “what am I capable of?” Must encourages you to trust your gut and take the risk, because you truly BELIEVE in yourself.

Last year, Must drove decisions in my personal life that resulted in happiness I could only dream of. This year, Must is driving the shift in my career. Am I a blogger? Yes, kind of. What does a Creative Consultant do? It’s an answer that is hard to formulate into a simple sentence. Is this what I’ll be doing in 10 years? I’m not sure. And even right now, I wear so many hats, it’s become clear that I will have to be OK with the fact that my career path may never fit nicely into a category that can be filed away neatly. Maybe it will be someday, but certainly not at the moment. What I do know is I’m opening myself up to vulnerability and the unknown in order to see where my wild passions take me. It’s risky, it’s scary. But you know what? If it doesn’t work out, I have the rest of my life to call myself a graphic designer, to say I work at an agency, to be what many people think I Should be. But that’s not my path, and I don’t plan to turn back until that path becomes at Must.

What do you think of Elle’s article? Have you found yourself at the crossroads of Should and Must? I’m curious to hear your stories.

  • I like this a lot. I think the dichotomy is often structured as Should vs. Want, as in, “Do what you want to do!” But I actually think there’s a lot more agency in the word “must.” Must is a demand to be a better self, a truer self. It’s almost like a contract you make with yourself. Thanks for sharing this!

  • I think one of the biggest steps is figuring out what your “Must” is. That’s where I’m at, currently, anyway. Takes finding some space and taking some risks, I think. Thanks for inspiring.

  • kate, i’ve followed your blog for many many years and while i’ve always loved your design, fashion and style posts, i’m really loving the authenticity that you’ve been bringing to the forefront lately! it’s so refreshing and inspiring – thank you for being real in an online blogging world where so much isn’t.

  • The timing of this post is so eerie…definitely feeling like I’m in the middle of the crossroads, and I don’t know which way to turn. Reading this definitely feels like words of encouragement. Thanks!

  • The article is great, thanks for sharing Kate. I keep thinking I need to find a time and space to figure out what my musts are, but that seems hard to come by these days, The more I think about it, the more I’ve realized that my MUSTS are actually those shining little things dancing just outside the periphery of my everyday – I just need to find the energy to harness and explore them and make them part of my reality.

  • What an awesome analogy + a fabulous question to ask ourselves. Thanks for introducing me to this! Determining the difference between the Shoulds and the Musts is something the hardest thing we have to encounter… Tough but exciting, all the same.

  • I love this and I’m right there with you. “Should” led me to marriage; “Must” led me to waking up, being honest, and getting a divorce. “Should” freaks me out everyday, when I see my friends doing big things in their careers or having babies. “Must” tells me that putting my life on hold to train for the Olympics is a dream few people can follow– but I can and I am and it’s okay that I’m doing it differently than everyone else.

  • This really resonates with me as well. I think I’ve spent so much time trying to fit into and being frustrated with all the “shoulds” that I didn’t take the time to fully articulate my “musts”. While it hasn’t led to the best decisions, it’s been more paralyzing than anything. Gotta say though; even small steps towards what I really want feels incredibly good 🙂

  • I really appreciate the substance many of your articles bring to the blogging world. Not that I don’t love just looking at pretty things all day, but your words often make me think and reflect. Thank you!

  • Kate , I agree with everyone else lately your blog has been so real and inspiring that I’m anxious every week to see what you share. I just turned 36 and going back to school and the should / must are definitely keeping me awake most nights. Do I want to be a college student at 36? Will I be able to handle it along with being a good wife? The MUST is my selfish part that says “go out and get yourself done!” Finding a common balance is hard especially at my age I feel. My Dad always said “making decisions is the easy part, living with those decisions is the hardest part about life” every day this is so true.

    Congrats on finding your happiness 🙂 and sharing with us.