Your "Should" and "Must" (and an Awesome Book)

“Should is how other people want us to live our lives. . . . When we choose should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves.
Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest-held urges and desires—unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable.” —Elle LunaThe Crossroads of Should and Must

My yoga teacher opened class last week with a quote from The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna, a book I went home and ordered that very night. The quote was: “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.” It was one of those memorable classes where the theme really spoke to my heart.

After class, I began to reflect on the last time I was at a major crossroads in my life and had to choose between what I should do and what I felt I must do. In 2011 my husband and I moved to the DC area for his job. Even though I have no doubt that moving was one of the best decisions we could have made for his career, our relationship, and our general happiness, I personally had a bit of a shaky start—particularly in the career department.

I had gotten a coordinator position in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington DC, one of my favorite places in the city. I was happy and grateful to have secured a job so quickly (especially after realizing that our cost of living would almost triple), but within months I realized that I was in the wrong place. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel fulfilled in what I was doing, and I felt as if a dark cloud was following me as I trekked from my house to the DC metro to my office and back again five days a week. I cried—a lot. People told me that I should feel lucky to have a job because some people aren’t so fortunate, that I was simply being too picky about what I was doing with my life. I tried to listen to them and justify my situation, but I couldn’t ignore that feeling that I didn’t belong.

Before moving to DC, I had worked for an independent publisher, and I knew that I truly enjoyed the work I did there. (I even wrote about my aspirations of working in the publishing industry in my application letter to Cornell.) I decided to take some of the things I loved about publishing—editing, writing, organizing, planning—and see what I could do with them.

In May 2012 I began to use my daily two-and-a-half-hour commute (gross!) to edit projects for various organizations. By October, a few projects turned into several projects, and I had more work than I could handle in my spare time. I needed to make a decision: do what many other people do and work a 9–5 at a more-than-reputable organization and earn a good paycheck and benefits but be unhappy every day or take a leap into the world of entrepreneurship and pursue my dreams (which is a bit scary to say the least). Any guesses? If you’ve read my bio, you know which path I took. Armed with Michelle Goodman’s My So-Called Freelance Life and the support of my husband, family, and close friends, I began Ford Editing—and the rest is history.

I know many people who live their lives as if they are checking off a giant list—like a life resume. They are so concerned with how they look to other people (the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality) or what they think they should be doing that they don’t take the time to really enjoy their passions, their relationships. I had several people try to talk me out of starting my business because “it was too risky,” and while I respectfully took their concerns into account, I knew that starting my business was a must for me, and I was willing to do anything to make it happen. And guess what? The rain cloud has long since lifted, and I can look myself in the eye every day with pride and fulfillment—and you can’t put a price tag on that.

Now, I’m not saying to go out and quit your job and start your own business, but I am challenging you to take a look at your life and your current path. Are you happy? Are you where you thought you’d be? Are you surrounded by people who lift you up? We make decisions, both big and small, in our lives every day—about our careers, relationships, passions, where we live, and how we take care of ourselves, among countless other things. It’s important to slow down sometimes and assess where we are in life and decide if that’s where we want to be. If not, we have the power to make things different. The decision between should or must will be one that we will be faced with over and over again. Which will you choose?