In the United States in particular, we are taught to achieve, succeed, accomplish, climb. We are told to graduate high school, go to college, marry well, have a career, buy a house, have 2-3 children, and plan our finances to benefit both our retirement and our children’s future.
We have been taught to have high expectations.
We have been taught the ‘proper’ trajectory of our lives. We have been taught what to look for in a career, in a college experience, in a mate, in successful parenting.
This is all good and well, if these are truly your heartfelt goals. But what if they are not? What if you disagree with the normal trajectory? What if you defy the common goal of attaining a college degree? What if you do not wish to be married, or at least not within the timeframe allotted? What if you do not want kids, or at least not in your 20’s?
Are you intrinsically wrong if you don’t adhere to societal standards and expectations?
Maybe it’s because I have not adhered to what is considered ‘normal’, but I don’t think it’s wrong to not want what everyone around you wants. And while there are a thousand buzzfeed articles about the perfect man and the amazing mother and the career that changed lives, I find the expectations they impose upon me to be phony.
I would say it’s time we ‘lower’ our expectations – it’s time we stop writing a prescription for 18-year-olds to be adhered to for the next 30 years. Why? Let me give you three reasons.
1. Cookie-cutter Ideals Only Work For Certain Types of Dough
You don’t use a cookie cutter for chocolate chips cookies. You use them in gingerbread and sugar cookies – and it’s a lot of fun!
Some people are predispositioned to flourish under the societal norm. But I am not a sugar cookie. You might not be either. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with us or with sugar cookies – it just means we’re different!
The normal life trajectory, the traditional expectation, works for some people but it doesn’t work for all of us. That doesn’t make either party wrong, it just makes us different. If the peer pressure (aka – the millionth pregnancy announcement on Facebook this week) doesn’t appeal to you, then you shouldn’t punish yourself for not being made of gingerbread dough. ‘Lowering your expectations’ might just mean accepting that you’re an M&M cookie.
2. Expectations Are Set To Accommodate A Certain End
The white-picket-fence-life is a goal that I personally don’t share. To society, the idea of the ‘Leave It To Beaver’ life is perfection.
The life trajectory I feel pressured to follow is really a means to an end.
When I was in high school, I was overwhelmingly pressured to apply to college. No one stopped to ask why, or what my end goal was. It was merely accepted that I should go to college.
(Sadly, it would seem, a lot of young women attend college to obtain their Mrs. Degree.)
University is not a necessity. I know many women who are perfectly happy – after 4-6 years in college – in a life in which they do not even use their degree. Many of them have unfortunately acquired student loans in the process. I, personally, along with other very successful professionals I know, chose to pursue an apprenticeship.
I am married, but I did not become so in order to have children. I have a growing writing career that I did not attend college to pursue. (As it turns out, you do not need college to write books.) I ‘lowered my expectations’ and have chosen a different lifestyle.
If any point of the peer-pressured, ‘normal’ life milestones does not appeal to you, perhaps you should change your expectations as well. If you did, you might find that the ends they prescribed to you when you were a senior in high school never truly resonated with your soul.
3. Happiness Is Not For Mass Consumption
Despite every current marketing technique, what makes one person happy is not what makes everyone happy. After all, have you ever had a friend who was in utter bliss while in a relationship you, yourself, would despise?
New cars don’t make me happy. Eating out doesn’t make me happy. Expensive jewelry doesn’t make me happy. My husband getting a promotion doesn’t make me happy. Selling lots of books doesn’t make me happy.
The rainbow cast from the mist of a waterfall makes me happy. Rich, delicious foods make me happy. Having a new experience makes me happy. Writing in and of itself makes me happy.
What makes me happy may not make you happy. The things that make you happy may not make me happy (particularly if your interests include sporting events). That’s okay. We are different.
Similarly, your life trajectory may lead you to happiness, while my radically different life trajectory may lead me to equal happiness.
Happiness is, ultimately, a personal experience. As such, it was never meant for mass marketing. Lowering my expectations from traditional equations that supposedly create happiness could very well result in a joy and supreme happiness never experienced through the ‘average’ and ‘acceptable’ means.
Choosing a life different from the choices of everyone around you doesn’t make you wrong. You may have lowered your expectations in the eyes of some, but that very shift may just be what ignites your heart toward greatness.