The road from should to must

I have a friend who, as can often be the way of things in 2019, I’ve never met. She’s from the US, and she’s related to a lady who’s an Airbnb host and whose basement room, by some serendipitous turn of fate, became my base during my first trip to America in 2017.

In her Facebook posts, my never-met friend writes beautifully about reflection and self-compassion and the journey that life is for all of us. Last year she wrote a post about recovery, in which one line jumped out.

Stop shoulding on yourself!

She talked about the concept of “should” in the context of the things she / we / anyone “should” be able to handle, because other, “normal” people can handle it. And part of her reply is to encourage us to “stop shoulding” on ourselves.

The concept of “should” runs deep.

Should is often conditioning.

Should is often the stuff you think you should be doing, the path you think you should be following, the career arc that normal people should participate in, and the things you should be able to handle.

Should usually comes from outside.

Must, though, comes from inside.

Must is the thing we are compelled to do for no other reason that we are compelled to do it.

Must is the thing we are born to do.

Must is hard, because it forces us to make choices and decisions that don’t tally with the expectation others have of us, and very likely the expectation we have come to have of ourselves. Must is hard, because it can feel lonely, and as humans we will do almost anything not to feel lonely.

Should is hard for a different reason, because it doesn’t feel natural and it can force us out of alignment with the things that add up to make us us. Should, when we push through it, can feel like a grind. Must, when we give in, can feel like flow.

The road from should to must is not easy, and it’s not quick.

It takes time.

It takes us removing the endless distractions (alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, Netflix…) for just long enough that we can reflect on our true selves.

It takes us listening to our true selves when we reflect, to our thoughts and feelings and emotions and desires and dreams.

And it takes us accepting fully what we find when we listen.

The road from should to must can take years or decades or the rest of our lives.

It starts with being honest with ourselves, with an intention to bring our inner and outer lives into something close to alignment, with one decision to do something small for no other reason than it gives us joy, and with full acceptance that we deserve to experience that joy.

It starts with us, and no-one outside of us.

And it can start today, right here, right now.

Baby steps.