Staring at my to do list I realised I had so many items on there and began to feel overwhelmed. My inbox was overflowing, plans and ideas I was once excited for had slipped away and I barely had any energy left to make any progress.
I’m sure you know this — this emotion of feeling like there is so much to do that you don’t know where to start.
On your list is things you want to do and things people told you to do. There’s thing’s people have asked of you and thinks you need to do.
Like the smart human being you are, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you can’t do it all. With work, family, friend and health commitments, we try our best to make time for everything but it just isn’t possible. Instead I try and make time for only the important. But what defines important?
I used to think that everything was important and treated them as such. That meetup my friends invited me to? Super important, I don’t want to let them down! The million emails in my inbox? Definitely important, I’m probably holding someone up! After all, why would someone bother to send me an email if it’s wasn’t important? (Hah).
With all of these important things to do I soon found myself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I felt like everyone needed me urgently. I realised that everything that was important was so to someone else, not me.
I found myself at a place where I treated everyone else’s problems, needs and wants were important and sacrificed my own in the process. My time and focus was being taken up by being there for everyone except myself. I was spending all of my time on others, leaving not time to invest in my own dreams.
After this realisation, nothing changed. This should be the moment I tell you how I flipped my priorities around and began to spend more time focusing on myself — but I didn’t. With stubbornness and defeat I tried to weed through all the things on my list and please everyone. Things I was once excited and motivated to start were overtaken by meaningless tasks that, while felt important at the time, in retrospect really weren’t.
In Elle’s talk she defines Should as the expectations and obligations we receive from others. When choosing to live life this way we make choices and live for someone other than ourselves. Perhaps you’re receiving pressure from your boss, mum or partner. You make Should decisions in order to fulfill them.
Must on the other hand is about who we are and what we believe to be true. Choosing Must is honoring yourself and your capabilities. It’s about offering your unique gifts to the world and prioritising yourself and your dreams.
After hearing Elle’s talk I thought about how many times I’d said Should or Must in the last year. I thought back to those emails in my inbox and started to question how they contributed to my overall calling. Should I really reply to this person who’s asking me something that can easily be googled? I began to consider how the decisions I’d made had contributed positively towards living my truest, most authentic self.
I realised I’d spent so much time investing in what I should do, and none in what I must do.
I’d been so fixated on fulfilling the expectations of other that I never stopped to think about how it would impact me on my winding, messy, cliff-hanging journey towards fulfilling my dreams.
Elle relates the crossroads of Should and Must to personal and career development and ‘life’s calling’. She talks about huge life decisions like quitting her job at Mailbox (RIP) to become a painter.
When put into perspective, small tasks on a to do list and a few emails in an inbox are just that — small. They’re probably not ‘life’s calling’. I wanted to apply the conventions of Should and Must into my life, but wasn’t ready to tackle the big career or calling. Instead I started small — with my personal goals and how I spend my time. I decided I could should must apply the principle of Should and Must to my daily life.
While I started small, gradually over time I began to apply Must to greater things in my life. For instance the time I decided to move 18,000km away from my Wellington home to Amsterdam. At the time I was thinking to myself ‘Should I do it? Probably not. Must I? Most definitely’.
Like Roz Savage wrote her future obituary, in my mind I wrote my future self. I defined who I wanted to be. From then on I attacked each decision, task and action with the question of ‘Must I do this to become honour my authentic self?’ If the answer was Yes I’d make time for it, no questions asked. All other tasks fell into the Should bucket. Sometimes they got done, sometimes they didn’t.
Honouring yourself isn’t easy. Saying no to people or things is hard and it’s not uncommon to feel like we should please everyone. My fatigue for all the things I should be doing is still present but less so than it was two years ago. Instead I try to focus all my being on what I Must do to achieve my dreams.
I think I’m getting closer.
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