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What To Do When You’re At A Crossroads Between “Should” And “Must”

Try these five exercises to figure out your next step when you find yourself at a professional turning point.

What To Do When You’re At A Crossroads Between “Should” And “Must”
[Photo: Shutterstock]

Life is full of turning points–times when you have to start over, whether by choice or circumstance.

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For Ben Huh, that time is now. The founder of the network of websites that includes I Can Haz Cheezburger, Memebase, and The Daily What stepped down as CEO in July to recharge his creative energy.

“I’m at a crossroads,” Huh says. “I feel ready for a transition, but I don’t know what that is yet.”

So he and his wife, Emily, decided to spend a year traveling the world. They made a list of places they wanted to visit, but they don’t want to be tourists. “We want to see how business works in other places, and consider things and options that we would not be able to consider at home in Seattle,” Huh says.

Kicking off their “At a Crossroads” tour at Burning Man earlier this month and creating a video series to chronicle their adventures, the Huhs will visit 20 countries, including Japan, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, and Mexico. During some of their stops, the couple will share meals with local entrepreneurs; in other cities, they have no agenda.

“Part of the experience is being open-minded,” Huh says. “The goal is not to have a goal. We want to see how things are changing in the world in drastic ways. The best thing an entrepreneur can do is to pick a rising tide–something you should have started two or three years ago. We want to look for the next rising tide, and how it relates to us.”

Like Huh, many people get to a point in life where they’re unsure of what they want to do next. While traveling the world is a great way to find new options, Elle Luna, author of The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion, says the discovery process doesn’t have to be drastic.

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“A lot of people and books will tell you to take the leap and jump into the unknown, but the idea that you should do something risky to find meaning isn’t always advisable when you need to pay the rent and student loans and support your family,” she says.

Discovering what to do next could lead you into a new career path, or it could simply reignite a hobby, says Luna: “A job is something done for pay, a career is a system of advancements over time, and a calling comes from intrinsic motivation regardless of pay,” she says. “Sometimes a job, career, and calling are one and the same, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Luna says your calling is your “must”–that thing you must do feel alive and fulfilled. Too often, our jobs and careers take up our physical and emotional energy, and at the end of the day, we’re too tired to find time for our must. You can never lose it, but it’s easy to forget your must when “shoulds” get in the way.

“Shoulds are how society and other people want us to be–the expectations that are layered upon us,” she says. “When we choose to live life in ‘should,’ we are living for something other than ourselves.”

Shoulds can drown out your must, but Luna says there are five ways you can reconnect:

1. Recall Your Childhood

“Nowhere is the essence of our ‘must’ purely exhibited more than when we were kids,” Luna says. Call someone who knew you when you were young, such as your mom, and ask them to tell you what you loved to do when you were little.

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2. Write Two Versions Of Your Own Obituary

Write one about the life you’re living, and a second imagining the life you wished you had lived. Pay attention to the dreams you have for yourself.

3. Experience Something New

Sign up for classes or seminars where you have a new learning experience. Luna suggests acquiring one new skill a month. “This will help you build a tool kit of things that enable you to play, and ‘must’ loves play,” she says. Once you accumulate enough adventures, start to see them as a collection and look for patterns.

4. Peruse Your Bookshelf

Pay attention to the books you choose to read. “Maybe as a kid you were always outside, and now as an adult you find that you are really craving books about people who go on an outdoor pilgrimage,” Luna says. “See if there is a pattern emerging that is trying to tell you what you miss.”

5. Be Alone

During rest, your ‘must’ will often tell you things, says Luna. If possible, get away for a weekend without your phone, take a journal, and just be.

“Solitude is missing from day-to-day life, and insight and vision need solitude,” says Luna. “You can’t connect with your must if you are around incessant noise making.”

If you can’t get away for a weekend, Luna suggests simply sitting on a park bench or under a tree for 10 minutes, allowing yourself to be captivated by what’s around you.

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“This is the part that requires faith,” she says. “Show up and follow the clues your internal must is laying down for you. Everyone has a must waiting to emerge. It simply requires gentleness, compassion, playfulness of spirit, and optimism.”

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