Should Vs. Must

At Medium, artist and designer Elle Luna discusses the different choices we make at different points in our careers—the “shoulds” being what we ought to do and what people expect us to do, and the musts being “who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self”:

Must is why Van Gogh painted his entire life without ever receiving public recognition. Must is why Mozart performed Don Giovani and Coltrane played his new sound, even as the critics called it ugly. Must is why that lawyer in his thirties spent three years writing his first novel only to be rejected by three dozen publishers. He honored his calling, eventually received a “yes,” and that is why John Grisham is a household name today. Must isn’t exclusively for writers and painters and composers, though. Must is why, in the early days, Airbnb sold boxes of cereal to make ends meet because no one would give them money and every conceivable metric said they should quit.

It’s a tad on the idealistic side, though I appreciate Luna’s point of view. Our lives are a balance of “shoulds” and “musts”—some of us must make art, but we also must provide a living for ourselves, and that often involves what we should be doing to make that happen (again, see: Maggie Estep).

Photo: Wonderlane


11 Comments / Post A Comment

rhinoceranita (#5,858)

Well it seems to boil down to “MUST PAY BILLS.”

beastlyburden (#6,122)

Aw. I liked this. Which surprised me because I also really liked that Jacobin piece about the privilege and tyranny of “doing what you love.” I’m so persuadable!

guenna77 (#856)

that just makes me roll my eyes. none of that is really “must” – it’s “want”.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@guenna77 “Of course, the best way to make money is to figure out what you love and then give yourself to it. Because the people who consistently choose Must over Should find a way to make it work, and, once they take the leap, they find it’s easier to make money doing what they love than they ever imagined.”

My eyes almost rolled out of my head.

Elsajeni (#1,763)

@Derbel McDillet Contrasted with “Must is why Van Gogh painted his entire life without ever receiving public recognition,” that’s particularly baffling.

therealjaygatsby (#4,053)

I’m glad George W. Bush found his inner “must” and started painting. If only he found his true calling earlier in life…

Ollie (#6,398)

@therealjaygatsby Now if only Barack Obama could find his.

tw0lle (#4,354)

Okay, but Van Gogh was supported financially by his brother, and Mozart was already critically acclaimed when he wrote Don Giovanni (so it was a creative risk but not necessary a risk to his livelihood). If we’re talking composers the author should have referenced Mussorgsky, who was not only destitute but critically reviled, but still persisted in creating his own kind of weirdo music…

Heather F G (#6,074)

@tw0lle Haha, Mussorgsky, a heartening story for me, as the fiancee of a composer pursuing his “must”…

yellowshoes (#4,954)

I’m usually suspicious of “follow your HEARTSONG zomg!” pieces, but I really liked this! I think what’s great about this piece is how she acknowledges that you can follow your Must in small ways, too — a different tone entirely from pieces saying, like, “FOLLOW YOUR BLISS and if you don’t immediately quit your job & sell your belongings, you’re not BLISSFUL enough!” I can’t exactly follow my Must in grand fashion (cause, ya know, bills, rent, current employment medium-satisfaction), but I can absolutely have a rockin’ Must session tonight after work. That sounds suspicious but really it’ll probably be dinking around on my sewing machine. Onward!

Marge (#4,715)

As an artist with a full time job I give this a resounding ‘meh.’ The word ‘should’ gets thrown around a lot so I am already primed to tune this out from all the ‘you should print a zine to help promote your work!’ to the ‘you should frame this!’ or ‘you should work larger!’ comments that get thrown around by helpful friends. I also take issue with the lovely but trite portraits of Van Gogh and Mozart that Luna conjures up.
Not every artist has some kind of psychotic inner vortex of beauty and pain and art or whatever that they simply must get out in to the world lest they become meaningless shells of their former self. I don’t ‘must’ myself in to putting brush to canvas. I like making art, I value my time in the studio and put a lot of effort in to cultivating my studio practice. ಠ_ಠ

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