The Crossroads of Should and Must

Elle Luna wrote a piece on in 2014 entitled The Crossroads of Should and Must, which quickly went viral; shared with five million people and read by 250,000. From there, she wrote a book by the same title, expanding on the original article.

Elle differentiates between the conflicting forces of ‘should’ and ‘must’, which determine what kind of work we pursue. Simply put, ‘should’ is an external driver, meaning living life according to others’ expectations. ‘Must’ is internal; your inner, unwavering voice battling against the version of events you believe you ‘should’ be cultivating.

If you’re conscious you’re discontent with your ‘should’ but you’re not sure what your ‘must’ is, there are suggested exercises to work through, helping find your answers.

As Elle is an artist, she’s included charming illustrations on most pages that bring her thoughts to life. And the book is beautifully written too, so it’d be best to quote her directly:


“Should is how other people want us to live our lives.

It’s all of the expectations that others layer upon us. Sometimes, Shoulds are small, seemingly innocuous, and easily accommodated. “You should listen to that song,” for example. At other times, Shoulds are highly influential systems of thought that pressure and, at their most destructive, coerce us to live our lives differently.

When we choose Should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. 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. 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. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own – and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals…

Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.”