Book review – The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

22859551I read The Crossroads of Should and Must back in April, took loads of notes, had many thoughts, and then couldn’t seem to bring myself to write a review because it required doing some hard thinking about my “crossroads” and whether or not I truly believe that it’s as easy as picking a “must” over a “should”.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of something – a calling or passion – that I should be doing. It’s a thing that we’re taught in movies, books, and ads – everyone has something that they’re exceptionally good at or that will make them happy for the rest of their lives. It didn’t help that I also knew a number of people who seemed to be exceptionally good at some things and exceptionally passionate about following some areas of interest. I, on the other hand, was a generalist – I was pretty good at pretty much everything I put my mind to, but not particularly fantastic at any one thing. I wanted to be. It seemed like it would be so easy if there was some magic career or life choice that would make me eternally content. But, years of wanting to believe it and feeling that it was my own fault for not finding my “passion” nearly ruined me by making me feel like I might be a failure. There I was in a job that didn’t reflect my interests, much less my “passions” – Where did I go wrong? Did I make bad choices?

It took several years before I was able to see that life is complicated, people are complicated and some of us don’t have “passions” or the temperament to deal with the potentially unpredictable life that might come with turning our hobbies into jobs. Personally, I like having a steady paycheck with a pension, I like not having to be my own boss, and I like having hobbies that are allowed to just be for fun and not be the thing that I have to rely on for my rent.

I’ve become pretty pessimistic about the whole “find your passion” mind set, so I almost didn’t read this book. In fact, I’ve been avoiding books that try to tell us that it’s as simple as picking your passion over a boring office job because I think that it’s bullshit and an unfair dream to promote. Yes, many people have or feel that they have found their passion, but many more are people who are generalists (good at a little bit of everything) or people who need steady jobs, whether it’s because they prefer the stability or because they have a family to feed.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

All that said, I did end up reading the book because I decided that it’s useful to learn about fostering our passions, even if we don’t necessarily want to turn them into a career. You can have a boring office job while still being a passionate hobbyist!

The premise of the book is that everyone has a calling (our “musts”) and everyone also has to deal with family or social expectations (our “shoulds”). Luna argues that, where reasonable, we should choose our “musts” over our “shoulds” as much as possible. She suggests that we’re at our best and happiest when our job/career aligns with our calling, so that our work life and passions overlap and blend together. In other words, someone who’s passionate about art should be an artist or works in the arts.

One of the most useful things about this book is the discussion about our “shoulds” and how they can limit us. Luna notes that we have to understand why you aren’t free and what keeps you from being free before you can break free. If nothing else, we should be aware of any “shoulds” we have inherited so that we can keep the ones we value and discard the others. Luna suggests identifying them, asking where they come from (society, family tradition, ourselves, etc.), determining if they’re true or useful for us, and looking at if they’re holding us back.

Regardless of whether or not I believe that we all have a calling, I’m a firm believer in continually examining our lives and our beliefs as that fosters growth. Plus, I’m a bit of a rebel who likes to question cultural expectations. So, I found this part of the book to be especially interesting and useful.

I also appreciated that she was careful to note that choosing our “musts” does not mean taking risks that could harm us – uncertainty and risk are fine, but being impulsive isn’t helpful. It’s important for us to remember that life changes may not be easy for us (or other people) because we may not have the same degree of privilege as others (money, time, support) or we may need to consider other factors (like taking care of a family or our mental health). Luna explores some ways that we can make changes without necessarily taking risks. She talks about how to find and foster your passion, how to make room (physically, mentally and financially) for your passion, how to get started, and how to work through roadblocks (including fear).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I think that a lot of people would really appreciate and benefit from reading it. So, despite my pessimism about “passions”, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, especially people who feel that they do have a passion or calling that they want to pursue.

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