The Gap Between Must, Should, and Want


A good friend once told me about the sage, defensive advice – “Get your should off me!”.

She meant it in the best possible way. We were in the midst of a happy converse about life choices and balancing the busy. It was one of those bits of advice that I (very) occasionally hear, which really speaks to me, and helps me to focus a part of my own mental innards.

She’s a good friend – did I mention that? She’s taught me a lot over the years. πŸ™‚ That day, she taught me about the gap between “must”, “should”, and “want”.

From Unity to Separation of Imperatives

A lot of times we think one thing, and things are actually quite different from the way we originally thought. But since one of the best ways to learn is to see and understand differences, that’s okay!

For example, in the long list of things we do, plan to do, or think about doing each day, week, month, or year, we may see more urgency at first than there actually is. In the flurry of stuff-tasks and stuff-projects, we may not realize that there are:

  • Must – The ones we absolutely must do, in order to keep the Universe safe for puppies and flowers, and prevent the over-bearing power of the guilt-punch. Do these.
  • Should – The ones we really should do, in order to.. just kinda be nice citizens and to help out friends, relations, and neighbors, as well as our present and future selves. Do these, if possible.
  • Want – The ones we really want to do, in order to satisfy our own needs, desires, and amusements. Sometimes also in order to satisfy our feeling that we must/should be somehow different from the person we actually are. Be wary of these – they are the big danger in your day.

But what’s wrong with wanting something?

The Bad Side of Want

The problem with “want” – in this situation – is that it gets confused with “must” and “should”.

For example, you agree to over-commit your time during the holiday season (which is fast approaching!!!!!!), thinking that you “must” fulfill certain family obligations, or that you “should” fulfill them. But in fact you are doing it because you want to avoid the guilt or conflict involved in working out something that it more enjoyable for everyone.

How much time do you spend doing what you want to do?

Don’t know what I mean? Perhaps.. Admittedly, this is a personal issue for me. But my guess is that many others out there can relate. After all, there’s a reason why, for the last several years, most of the people I have asked “How are you doing?”, have breathlessly replied: “Busy!” 😦

So the bad side of “want” is when your desire to do something turns into a feeling that there is no choice but to do it. You end up interpreting that as a “must”. A good way to get a handle on it is to ask yourself, “What percentage of my time am I doing exACTly what I want to be doing?” I don’t mean “sort of” what you want to be doing – I mean “precisely”, “exactly”, and there is nothing else you would rather be doing at that moment.

If the percentage is high, that’s great. If not, I’m thinking you have too much “must” and “should” in your life, or that your “wants” are being subtly transformed into hard obligations.

Closing the Gap

The interesting thing about gaps is that they are borders between different types of things. They help to make distinctions obvious, and that’s a prime opportunity to learn something about yourself and your relationship to a thing.

But please:

  • Notice the gap.
  • Understand the gap.
  • If so inclined, close the gap.

Most of all, be certain that when you are feeling a constraint in your life, that is an actual constraint, not just a fabricated or perceived constraint. If you don’t know what I mean, my guess is that you’ve got false constraints that you just haven’t figured out how to notice yet, and that you might enjoy being able to get rid of them, if you could figure out how to notice them.

After all, the only things that are sure in life are:

  • The Sun revolves around the Earth, and..
  • PC is better than Mac.

πŸ™‚

Everything else is just a matter of opinion! πŸ˜‰