Making the Jump from Should to Must

By: Christina Olivarria, MSPM

At the start of 2020, I was gifted the book “The Crossroads of Should and Must” by Elle Luna by my boss and mentor Kelly Guzman. I am sure that many of us, over the course of our careers, have sifted through self-improvement books as we strive to be better versions of ourselves, thus becoming leaders to those we serve. Paging through this colorful book filled with imagery about the ideas of oneself, I found myself enthralled with the concepts of should versus must. After about 45 minutes, I closed the book and let the reality of what I had just read sink in. As I sat there, so many memories flashed through my head of times that I had failed to act out of fear of what others may think, or worse, anxiety over the thought of failure.

In the text, Luna defines the ‘shoulds’ of life as preconceived notions about what we should do, how we should behave, and what we should say. Basically, ‘shoulds’ are expectations of what is acceptable, and often by staying in the should lane, we minimize our risk of failure, thus reducing our likelihood of getting hurt or feeling vulnerable.

‘Musts,’ on the other hand, are incredibly risky. ‘Musts’ remove the idea of conforming to what others think, leaving us to face the idea of what we want, how we think, and following in what we believe. ‘Musts’ are terrifying, but also alluring. Imagine what we could accomplish if we stepped out of the lane of should and instead hopped onto the road to must.

“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

About three years ago, I registered to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s degree after 10 years of being out of school. It was terrifying and risky, as I could not imagine how I was going to balance being a full-time student, on top of being a mom of three and working full-time. My ideas of vulnerability crept in all the time as I thought about going back: What if I can’t do it? What will the other students think? Am I being selfish? Even admitting to my co-workers and clients that I was going back to school to finish my degree came with its fair share of self-doubt: What will they think of me?

Luna describes this in her book, calling these inner thoughts the “What are you afraid of” list. She recommends giving yourself 10 minutes to write out all of the fears preventing you from going after your musts. It sounds funny but taking the time to do this provides the perspective of what you may or may not be willing to tradeoff in order to achieve your goals.

Making the jump from should to must is not something that most of us can do overnight; It is something that requires continued practice and reinforcement, gradually making small shifts in our behaviors. Luna shares three takeaways that each of us can apply to our daily lives to aid us in our road to fulfillment:

  1. Be in tune with you- The first step to must is understanding who you are. Your authentic self may be someone you are unfamiliar with. Take the time to understand what you believe in, what is important to you, and what your goals are. For some us, that may be journaling, for others, it may be meditation. What’s important is to find something that works for you and stick to it.
  2. Focus on your goals- Once you understand who you are and what you want, you need to focus on what it will take to get there. Change should be approached gradually. The ‘rip the band-aid’ approach to change rarely sticks. Make gradual steps to get to where you want to be. Is there a new skill that you have been wanting to learn at work? Volunteer to be on a team. Have you been wanting to learn to cook? Start by trying one new recipe each week. Whatever your goal, baby steps will turn to bigger strides as you journey down the road to must.
  3. Have a buddy- A large part of my role as a healthcare consultant and project manager is presentation skills. Up until last year, fear of saying the wrong thing or messing up prevented me from volunteering to take the lead on presentations. What has really helped me to tackle this fear and achieve my goal of becoming a more confident public speaker has been having a buddy to provide constructive feedback. I have shared with her my goals and my fears, which was a step towards accepting my own vulnerabilities. Having a confidant to encourage you on your road to must is invaluable. We all have our moments of self-doubt or fear- it’s part of being human. Knowing that someone is there with you in those moments makes the road a little less daunting.

“Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” Benjamin Franklin

I would like to leave you with one last thought: If you were to remove all possibilities of failure from the equation, what would you do? Whatever just popped into your head, write it down, and begin the journey to making that goal happen today.