Alternate Title: Totally stick to the usual roads traveled, your life will be perfect
[This post is another one for the Narrative Collection.]
Basically, this round we’re going to take a little dive into expectations and see if we can discover the real life path.
This is obviously the line of thinking I was focused on when I wrote the “Relationship Expectations: Marriage And Kids” post. For anyone that hasn’t read that post, it’s about how everyone has a unique mixture of beliefs, desires, personality, and more that influences their life. Yet, society still tends to promote a “this is normal” mindset. And that can easily lead to people getting judged and ridiculed for doing their own thing.
How Normalized Life Paths Work
What a normalized life path often does is establish “milestones.” It gives everyone in a society a reference for what to do and what to expect from everyone else. So, despite everyone having different lives and perspectives, it can show relatability and similarities.
However, on the flip side, it can also serve as a detriment when someone feels not included. Because this “normal” is not always seen as just common, but the standard (and often necessary) for someone to have the best chance of a happy life.
[Which is honestly just ridiculous.]
Plus, for each milestone, there’s usually some semblance of “this matters most” or “X counts, but Y is unacceptable.” And since normalized life paths are often emphasized through the general vibe of society, these preferences can become significant. Even indicating whether something should be viewed as silly or insulting. Or if something is considered as “why society is crumbling” or a thing that everyone must do to live a “productive & fulfilling life.”
[Picture the hype and/or controversy around how a woman should dress, if chivalry is dead, self-employed vs not, meditation, career choice, and basically everything else.]
Other times, our peers and family will even directly confront us about certain topics. They might even pressure you (even with good intentions) to date or marry, choose a “safe” job, pick a certain degree, or such even if you oppose said action and have justifiable reasons. And because our loved ones’ opinions often matter to us, their advice and wishes can push us to follow expectations.
So, what happens?
The normalized life path just perpetuates. It works for some. And hinders or devastates others.
Do you count?
One central issue to be found with societies having a normalized life path is that it’s rarely treated as just that. Again, for many people:
“normal” is not always seen as just common, but the standard
Obviously, that brings many troubles. Like the ongoing challenge to validate different possibilities.
For example, let’s look at the milestone of marriage. The most prevalent and widely accepted expectation is between a man and a woman. Any deviation from that specific scenario can easily bring dismissal, aggression, ridicule, or worse.
Well, even though a life path (in theory) is pretty broad, each milestone does buildup a certain direct (or sometimes implicit) expectation and societal preference of how it should be achieved. And like with anything, there are different opinions as to what’s acceptable.
[Mind you, this is just a sample.]
Thus, even if you do follow the normalized life path, it’s hard to escape judgment and criticism. Since we’re often aware of some arbitrary detail that we’re not meeting within the milestone. And even in cases where no one is directly voicing complaints (or blatantly even seems to care), we’ve often already learned to be critical of ourselves and engage in self-deprecation, tearing ourselves down for supposedly not meeting society’s expectations. And for many people that have managed to avoid that problematic habit, they instead find themselves moping around or secretly unsatisfied, but not quite sure what’s the problem.
Welcomed rebel or ostracized
So, if a large portion of society faces such depressing results when abiding by the milestones, what happens to those that don’t?
Well, I think it often manages to boil down to either being a welcomed rebel or ostracized. The in-between, I think, is fairly narrow.
One of the important distinctions, I think, that decides whether you’ll be accepted or dismissed is if you “make it.” For example, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, are often applauded for their entrepreneurship, despite both having dropped out of college.
Now, this isn’t much of a surprise. Especially because both men went on to build companies that are currently worth over a trillion dollars and that reshaped the world and our day-to-day lives. Their technology is the stuff many people utilize and can’t imagine life without it. At that point, it’s hard not to get a pass on “didn’t follow the rules.”
However, there’s obviously a big difference between the success of the creators of Microsoft and Apple versus what most people will achieve. For the people who don’t “make it big,” but went against the grain of society, they’re often viewed as being ridiculous, dumb, or simply the rejects of society.
Basically, if you choose to not follow society’s normalized life path, then you better be a success story. And preferably, not a minor one. Otherwise, you may still be viewed as deserving of ridicule, doubt, and contempt.
Isn’t this ridiculous?
The answer is yes.
But, I won’t pretend that all societies take advantage of life paths equally. Depending on your culture or just where you live, the difference between how closely you follow the normalized life path can be ridicule vs death. It’s not a simple matter of just “follow your dreams” or “it’s your life, live it how you want to.” When you live in a society, you’re more than likely to be subjugated by at least some of its rules. And some punishments are just harsher than others.
So, I’m not going to try and resolve this predicament. Because I don’t have an answer.
However, what I will do is attempt to illustrate a few other ways of perceiving your life path. Hopefully, the more different options people witness, the more they will eventually learn to accept.
So in my humble opinion, which you probably expected, there is no real life path. Because everyone’s desires and perspective is unique.
Sure, we share some of the same experiences with millions (sometimes even billions) of other people. Like turning 10 or making your first friend.
But, each experience is unique in its own way and some may happen at a pace that’s different than society expects. Meanwhile, some experiences won’t be worthy for you to view as a milestone, but rather as a forgettable event.
That’s life. Different things matter to different people. Part of life is deciding how you want to deal with that. Do you criticize or wish someone well? Leave it alone or step in? What’s background noise versus something worth defending?
It’s up to you. After all, society is made up of individuals.