Should. What does it mean? And why do we use it so often? It's been so normalized that we say it without realizing our intentions, without realizing that we're bound by obligation to act and live in certain ways for reasons unknown. It's a concept that I question often and desperately strive to detach from. In an ideal world, the “shoulds” are far from my life, thrown off a cliff or anchored to an ocean floor and certainly nowhere near my decision-making. Why? Because the entire idea exists on a foundation of societal pressure and expectation.

Last week I received a late birthday gift in the mail from my mother. I expected a silly card with a corny message inside, or some ridiculous clothing item that I would never pick out myself. Instead, I reached inside a slightly crumpled priority mail envelope and felt the cool, smooth cover and sharp cardboard edges of a book. The Crossroads of Should and Must, I read. The title was written in colorful letters and on the bottom was a small illustration of a sign with two arrows pointing in opposite directions, reading, “should” and “must.”

I held the colorful book and let the title sink in. Could it really be about what I thought it was going to be about? I turned the first few pages and started skimming. “These pages are a pep talk to honor that voice inside of you that says you have something special to give. It's a reminder that while there is no map for where you're going, many have traveled the road before. It's permission to unlearn everything you've ever been told you should do in order to learn what you must.” I flipped through the pages, quicker this time.

The book detailed the difference between a job, a career and a calling. It was filled with splashes of colorful artwork and creative fonts, and looked almost like an interactive journal or picture book at first glance. The author talked about her personal experience with stepping outside of her comfort zone in order to quit doing something she felt she “should” do, and to start honoring her true passions, regardless of money or fear of failure or rejection.

You know those times when you start reading a book and it speaks to you on a spiritual level and you don't put it down until your eyes are bloodshot from staying awake for so long and the final page has been turned? That's what happened. I read the entire thing in one sitting and might have teared up a couple of times. No shame.

My brain! My heart! When did someone jump inside of my skull, steal my thoughts, articulate them much better than I ever could and then publish them?! I sat on my couch in a bit of a haze, the torn envelope flung onto the floor, and felt a wave of calm inspiration mixed with a frenzied, overwhelmed desire to do everything in the world all at once.

After I came down from my post-reading high, I had to wonder: how real is this? How possible is it to live a life that serves you in every way, and to refuse to compromise your principles for the sake of societal acceptance or money? The idealist in me wanted every single word to be true. The idealist wanted to take the book and my keys and bolt out the door towards a life of unprecedented adventure. But the realist was skeptical, latching onto the all-too-well-known ways of comfort and conformity. I believe in living vulnerably, striving to look a fool and prove that I'm attempting things that make me uncomfortable, and I'm working on making that lifestyle a reality. This book was a reminder that simply being aware that I want to avoid a life of complacency and complete foreseeable structure is one step in the direction of where I do want to be.

Read the book. Even if you're someone who puts up barriers to mask your vulnerable side, and the thought of pages upon pages of cheesy, inspirational words is making you cringe with embarrassment. Especially you, read it.