Should vs. Must
When I left for Spain just before the new year, I took two books with me. The first was A Year in the World by Frances Mayes, the first book that inspired me to travel when I read it as a young girl. The second was Letters to a Young Poet by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, which saved my life when I was struggling with undiagnosed depression during my teenage years. These are also the only two books that I brought with me when my family evacuated during the California wildfires in December of last year.
I took a red-eye flight to Europe, but as always, I had a hard time sleeping on the plane. I pulled out Letters to a Young Poet and read to soothe my nerves. If I've read that book, I've read it a hundred times, and within a couple of hours I was turning the final page. I read Rilke's letters when I feel lonely, or uncertain, or afraid. Especially now, I'm not that different from the young man to whom he addressed those words - away from home, on my own, working to find my voice as a writer and my place in the world. In a way, I feel like I have always been searching. Perhaps that's why Rilke's reassurances and advice have always comforted me so. If Anne Frank taught me that I had something to say in the first place, then Rilke taught me that I must say it. On the plane, I copied down the following passage in my journal:
"There is only one way. Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, 'I must,' then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge."
A while ago, I read a book called The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by artist Elle Luna. I read it right around the time that I was deciding whether to pursue freelance writing, and the title appealed to someone looking for answers. The book is based on a simple premise: there are the things that we think we should do, and there are the things we must do. Society and other people and even our own minds tell us a lot of stories about what we should do with our time, with our energy, with our lives, with our selves. What we should do often has little to do with what makes us happy, though, and that's where must comes in.
Must is what keeps you up with excitement at night. It's what you'd rather be doing. It's what you feel called to do. That doesn't mean you will always feel like doing it - you're only human, after all - but your must is essentially the organizing principle of your life. You don't have to do it to pay the bills, but you do have to do it, or you won't be happy.
For a long time, I did what I should do. I allowed writing a small sliver of my life, one that I relegated to the hours when inspiration struck and I wasn't too tired or busy to allow it to pass me by. It was not the organizing principle of my life. In a list of priorities, it probably ranked somewhere below #20. It didn't belong there at all, but all the shoulds took superseded it.
Writing is my must. It has become my necessity, and I'm trying to build my life upon it. I might fail. But at least I'll be alive while doing it. The only times in my life when I haven't written were the worst times, the low points, the periods when I felt like I couldn't breathe. So, I must write.
What is your must? Are you living it?