How Choosing "Must" Over "Should" Is The Key To Happiness

Written by Vanessa Loder, MBA

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For so many people, the vast majority of our life choices are made based on a sense of what we should do: “I should take this job,” “I should marry this type of person,” “I should make a lot of money.”

But that's an unfulfilling way to live. Rather than making decisions based on other people's perceptions, we should be making them based on our own. The talented Elle Luna wrote a compelling post called "The Crossroads of Should and Must" and, subsequently, a book on the same topic. The post, which has touched millions, speaks to the truth of who you are—if we've been choosing should, it's time to start aiming for must.

Elle describes should as “how other people want us to live our lives ... The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful. 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. 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.”

The drive of things we must do comes from within and is linked to a deeper calling. We all face the crossroads of should and must on a daily basis. Here are a few more things Elle's insights taught me about the journey from should to must.

1. We often choose "should" because it feels safer.

The journey to should is structured and predictable, the path is laid out, others have done it before. The journey to Must is nonlinear, uncertain, and full of surprises. It is the quintessential hero’s journey.

Sometimes you have to get lost to find your passion.

As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement address, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

2. Once you decide to live for "must" rather than "should," take an inventory of how you spend your time.

Elle begins her book by referencing Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk, in which he discusses the similarities and differences of jobs, careers, and callings. Reflect on your work; is it a job, a career, or a calling? How are you spending your time and where does your financial support come from? How can you keep making a living while moving more toward a life you feel called to live,= rather than one you feel obligated to continue.

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3. Deal with the "shoulds" to start pursuing the "musts."

Should starts in childhood. Elle suggests we get to know our shoulds by filling in the following blanks however we feel inspired to respond.

You should never ….

You should always ….

You should know better than to ….

You should not ….

Then, ask yourself these questions about the "shoulds" above.

Where did you come from?

Are you true for me?

Do I want to keep holding on to you?

4. Take one small step toward self-exploration every day.

You don’t necessarily need to jump off a cliff and quit your job to pursue a new venture. Elle shares, “As you take daily action, the cliff will cease to be a cliff. It will simply become an obvious next step along your path to Must.”

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5. Remember what excited you most as a child.

Ask your friends or parents when you seemed happiest, most content, and most engaged as a child. What did you enjoy doing? Find small ways to inject more of those activities into your daily life as an adult.

6. Get intimate with your desires.

Simply completing the sentence “I want ..." can be a powerful exercise. Some of us are so out of touch with our desires, we don’t know what we want for dinner. That’s OK. Just start to practice asking yourself what you want, in a small way, and work your way up to larger questions. Follow those internal prompts.

7. Learn a new skill every month.

This doesn’t need to involve a big time commitment. It can be learning to cook a new dish, taking a dance lesson, or practicing origami.

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8. Look for patterns in the activities you get excited about.

When do you find yourself so engrossed in what you're doing that you lose track of time? Do those activities have commonalities? Can you combine your passion for choreography with your love of interacting with people and become a dance or step class instructor? Find patterns in your pastimes and combine them to create new, more enriching challenges.

9. Write your own obituary.

Write your own obituary in two versions: the version you'd have if you continued to live your current life in the same way for the next however many years and the version you think might be possible if you started following your calling today.

As you follow these steps, you’ll start to feel what must is like.

“We can’t prove must. It’s not a thing that we can see. But we know that it exists because when it’s near, we feel it in our gut.”

Must is why we’re here. Following must is the key to living a life we're proud of, fulfilled by.

Joseph Campbell said, “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.”

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For more support in finding your must, read Elle’s book or check out Vanessa Loder’s 5 Secrets to Success.

And are you ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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