Understanding your shoulds & musts

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The book is a collection of the most effective questions the author encountered along the way in finding her passion and purpose. Think of these pages as a series of doorways designed so that you can choose which way your journey will go.
Firstly, we must understand the differences among what a job, career, and a calling are. The job is something typically done from 9 to 5 for pay. Career is a system of advancements and promotions over time where rewards are used to optimize behavior. Calling is something that we feel compelled to do regardless of fame or fortune; the work is the reward.
However, Seth Godin in one of his interviews offers an alternate point of view on calling saying it is stupid to believe in calling and passion, and ultimately, we must seek out for emotions we want to experience more of, and they can be experienced through seemingly unrelated activities.
The paradox of differentiating job, career, and calling is to seamlessly integrate both our work life and personal life.
What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we cannot parse the product from the person? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.
The author describes how Picasso balanced work and life, saying: “The more I discovered about his life and the more I delved into his art, the more the two converged”.
“It is not what an artist does that counts, but what he is.” –  Picasso
However, his art was so thoroughly autobiographical that what he did was what he was. Yes, Picasso had incredible talent, but the secret to his genius was this—Picasso’s life blended seamlessly with his work. It was impossible to tell where his life ended and his paintings began.
When we sense that our work life and personal life is neither balanced nor sustainable, we have reached the crossroads of should and must. To have what Picasso had, we must be able to distinguish between the shoulds and the musts of our life.
Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It is all of the expectations that others layer upon us. Sometimes, Shoulds are small, seemingly innocuous, and easily accommodated. “You should listen to that song,” for example. At other times, Shoulds are highly influential systems of thought that pressure and, at their most destructive, coerce us to live our lives differently. When we choose Should, we are choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.
A must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It is that which calls to us most deeply. It is our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges, and desires—unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must does not accept compromises. Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own—and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals.
To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it is not your path. Your path you make with every step you take. That is why it is your path. – Joseph Campbell
When you choose Must, what you create is yourself. It is a body of work. As you change, so too does the work. The source of Must connects us all. Must is both the journey and the destination, the upward journey of our lives that guides us toward that higher place, the oneness of all things, the ultimate source of Must.
How to find our must?
To find our must, the author recommends a few strategies.
Every month, choose one new thing to do. Your activities might appear to be unrelated, but over time, your interests will integrate and cross-pollinate because they have one common element—you. As the designer, Charles Eames was fond of saying, “Eventually everything connects.” As you try new activities, take notes in a dedicated place—a notebook, notecards, or on your computer.
Hang up all of your pieces of paper—notes, lists, and skills acquired. Put them in a place where the collection can grow, and you can see everything all at once. Look for patterns, connections, and recurring themes. Prefer to work in pairs? Hate sitting all day? Find sensory stimulation important for your process? Take note when connections begin to happen between seemingly disparate activities. As new ideas pop up, add them. As hypotheses emerge, grab them. Then go out and experiment and play with what you are learning. Share your insights with trusted peers. Integrate their feedback and repeat until you start to home in on your Must.
Nowhere is the essence of Must more purely exhibited than in 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 daydreamer?
Hindrances to the thought process of finding our must
You have to grow up under someone else’s wing. It is a normal, healthy process for parents to give Shoulds and for children to receive them. Because you—the child—must learn how to navigate the world. In addition to what you receive from your parents, you inherit a worldview from the community, culture, and specific time into which you are born. As you grow up, you get to decide how you feel about that worldview. It is a natural process to become your person, to find your voice, convictions, and opinions, and to challenge and shed the Shoulds that no longer serve your evolving beliefs. However, sometimes, we linger in Should a little longer than expected. Moreover, we might even find ourselves as adults still living in a world of Shoulds from childhood that we have not consciously examined.
The word, ‘prison’ comes from the Latin praehendere, meaning to seize, grasp, capture. A prison does not have to be a physical place; it can be anything your mind creates. What has taken ahold of you? The natural process of socialization requires that the individual be influenced by Shoulds to function as a part of society.
If you want to know Must, get to know Should. This is hard work. We unconsciously imprison ourselves to avoid our most primal fears. We choose Should because choosing Must is terrifying, incomprehensible. Our prison is constructed from a lifetime of Shoulds, the world of choices we have unwittingly agreed to, the walls that alienate us from our truest, most authentic selves. Should is the doorkeeper to Must. Moreover, just as you create your prison, you can set yourself free.
We need to know each Should’s origins, how it got there, and when we began to integrate it into our decision-making. Look for recurring patterns, and choices—both little and big—that are affected.
Must feels inherently selfish at first. However, when you choose Must, you inspire others to choose it, too.
A must is always with you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. A must is you. Sometimes, Must can feel far away, but it will never leave you. You just might not see it yet. In its purest sense, Must is why we are here, to begin with, and choosing it is the journey of our lives.
When you know why you are here—what you were put on this earth to do—it is challenging to go back to life as you knew it and be satisfied. Moreover, 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 months, years, a lifetime. Moreover, this is why this journey is fascinating, intoxicating, and downright intimidating.
When we discover our Must, the brain’s most primal, protective center gets alarmed. The riot gear is called forth. Defense mechanisms go up. Because choosing Must raises very real and scary questions.
Following are some of the common hindrances that prevent us from finding and choosing our must.
1. Money
The key is to be able to pay your bills can create the temporal and mental space to find your calling. There are many options to choose from, and there is dignity in all work. So long as you keep your eye on your Must and optimize your time and energy to sustain it as best you can, you can continue to adjust and experiment with how you make money.
However, what you do not want is to take a job that was intended to pay the bills and suddenly, you do not have time to explore your passion, you are too tired to step into that which you were put on this earth to do. Moreover, if for some awful reason, you forget that money is a game, a make-believe concept that some people invented, you could be led back into the complex, layered world of Should. Moreover, here, the loss is not a financial one. You are the cost. Is it worth it?
There are two types of money—Must-Have and Nice-to-Have. Must-Have money is a solid, fixed number that we do not want to risk not having. We will not be able to focus on our Must if we are worried about not being able to eat. This number is often smaller than you might assume. At its most basic, it includes food and shelter. Nice-to-Have Money is extra, above-and-beyond money. Too often, we confuse Nice-to-Have money with Must-Have. Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean that we need it. It will always be nicer to have more Nice-to-Have money. Beyond the absolutes, money is a game, and you can play it any way you want.
2. Time
Time is the second perceived stumbling block to Must. You make time for what you want. The more intimate we are with what we want, the more self-aware we will be about how we spend our time. (insert Manage your day-to-day)
Getting to know what we want requires heightened sensitivity, and it starts by staying alert to our urges and wants—little and big. This heightens our intuition and connects us to that little voice in our head that wants things—crazy things, silly things, dirty things, quiet things. The more we feed it, the louder it speaks.
When she was 81, Ginette Bedard ran her twelfth consecutive New York City Marathon. She started running at the age of 69. Of running marathons, she has said, “I am going to do this until destiny takes me away.”
3. Space
You need a physical space—private, safe, and just for you. When you are in this space, you are not available. I repeat, you are not available. This is your sacred space to be by and with yourself. We all need safe containers to explore parts of our mind that have become hard to reach over time.
Integrating solitude into our lives must be done in sustainable, everyday ways. Personally speaking, I would focus on deep breathing while doing chores such as washing dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, and folding clothes. This eliminates the little thought in my head that keeps saying ‘I could have done something better in this time.’ What else could be better than simply focusing on your breathing? It is a meditative exercise in itself.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao-Tau
4. Self-sabotage
How often do we place blame on the person, job, or situation when the real problem, the real pain, is within us? However, so long as we leave Should unexamined, the pattern repeats.
Our cultural lack of encouragement for psychological health is one of the primary sources of our unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and deepest inner suffering. Working with a therapist in your day-to-day life is like having a trainer at the gym, except rather than work your muscles, the therapist works the organ that thinks it is running the show—your brain—and the source that’s running the show—your spirit. By better understanding yourself, you awaken to the patterns that you unconsciously repeat in your life.
It is not easy to examine Should. It is painful; it takes time, and during the process, you might become vulnerable and irritable. You might even be able to notice when others are experiencing growing pains in life because they might close up, turn inward, and withdraw. This is normal because the process of transformation is exhausting.
The snake is the ancient sacred symbol for transformation. To grow, it must shed its skin. This process is painful, dangerous, and necessary for growth. The snake’s insides are outgrowing its outsides, and it must remove its restrictive, outermost layer. If, for some reason, the snake cannot shed its skin, over time it will become malnourished, possibly even blind, and it will die from its inability to grow. However, when it completes the process, the snake emerges stronger and healthier—a new incarnation. This shape-shifting life cycle represents rebirth and renewal, the enigmatic power of life to thwart death. It is a metaphor for the experience that you, as an extraordinary human being capable of miraculous growth and transformation, have the opportunity to experience in your life.
Now let’s get realistic about these fears. Because often, fears in our mind can be like sap—sticky and very difficult to remove. However, fears on paper? Tangible. Visible. Cross-out-able. The most sustainable Musts happen slowly, thoughtfully, and quietly. They do not happen impulsively but are built with a sober, calm intention.
To choose Must is the greatest thing you can do with your life because this congruent, rooted way of living shines through everything that you do. Your sacred space and daily efforts will become even more sacred. You will build a beautiful world for your Must. Moreover, over time, it will be tempting to stay forever in this magical place that you’ve created, never to return to the everyday world again. However, the complete and ultimate journey requires that you return, share your Must, and in so doing, lift the lives of others.
“Don’t just go through life,” he urged, “. . . make it a point, instead, to acknowledge mystery and welcome rich questions—questions that nudge you towards a greater understanding of this world and your place in it.”
Conclusion
Vincent van Gogh chose Must when he continued to paint, canvas after canvas, even as the world rejected his art. His work went largely unrecognized while he was alive. It can be challenging to understand, in our hyperconnected world of likes and comments and follows, what being true, utterly unseen might have felt like. A must is why, even as editors rejected his book again and again, the lawyer/author kept going and eventually received a yes, and it is why John Grisham is a household name today.
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