Are you living your life, based on someone else’s rules or view of the world? Perhaps it’s not a specific someone, but you feel like a square peg in a round hole, with no idea of how to find your special, unique place in this world…
Society puts a lot of pressure on us to live our lives in a certain way. In some cases this is a great thing, like not hurting anyone or not taking things that don’t belong to you. But what about the social constructs or expectations which you adhere to, but which you don’t really have any affiliation with?
Yes, the world is changing in terms of moving towards acceptance of difference ways of life – we just have to look to the LGBTQ movement and the advances in woman’s rights to know that there is hope, but what I’m speaking about is the patterns we get stuck in on a smaller scale in our personal lives, which can have devastating, long-term effects.
Often it takes a massive life event like a death or divorce to catapult a person into seeing the constructs that didn’t work for them, but it is possible to consider these things without having to experience such an event, just by recognising the discomfort of a ‘poor fit’ and then considering your alternatives. Living with purpose, rather than in reaction to circumstance.
What constructs are YOU stuck in?
A great question to ask yourself in this regard, is where do you feel like you compromised on something, or did something which didn’t feel right for you, but you felt like you had to do it anyway? The biggest areas this could have shown up for you is your career choice, whether or not to get married, HOW you get married, whether you have kids or not, where to live, etc.
The earliest that I can remember feeling like I was rubbing up against a social expectation, was when I decided to take a gap year between High School and going to University.
To me, heading off on an adventure was the most logical thing to do considering I didn’t know what I wanted to study and that I felt like I’d worked really hard throughout school, and wanted to take a break.
Disapproval came in the form of teachers telling me I was making a mistake, friends parents saying that I’d amount to nothing if I left, and a whole host of other things like ‘She’ll never come back and study’, ‘You’ll get lazy’, ‘You’ll be exposed to things you can’t handle’, etc.
Another time which stands out clearly for me is when I got married. I didn’t feel like any of the traditions around weddings resonated with me. In fact I felt so uncomfortable with everything and so overwhelmed with people telling me what to do and what I needed to have – I ended up in therapy, digging through what was conditioned in me growing up socially, around what marriage means. The conclusion was that I didn’t have a problem with committing to a life partner, but I wanted to negotiate the terms of the marriage AND the wedding.
So my husband and I came up with our own version, our own vows and our own sequence of events which because our wedding day(s). Of course, this alternative sat much easier with me, but it resulted in a lot of push-back from those around me. There was genuine surprise when there was no church, no white dress, no priest/minister and a set of promises which had nothing to do with belonging or completing each other. I was even told that I was being selfish because I’d be cheating my dad out of walking me down the isle!
Where else do social expectations show up?
What about career choice – did you choose what you wanted to study, or what field you went into based on your gender, what your parents/teachers told you to do, or on what you genuinely resonated with at the time?
Do you have the ‘white picket fence’ life, but are left wondering how you got there, and whose dream it was anyway?
Did you give up your love for travel when you got married, got a full-time job or had kids – because that is what ‘is supposed to happen’?
Did you sign up to massive amounts of debt to buy a house, because that is what is done?
Have you ever considered starting your own business, but binned the idea because everyone told you that it was too hard, too risky or that people who have their own businesses always struggle?
Why can social expectations be so limiting?
The thing with social expectations is that they create a false sense of security (in that there is a perception of a per-determined life-plan/map), so when you consider or voice the fact that you’d like a different type of life, career or relationship, it creates fear and uncertainty not just in yourself, but in others too.
Don’t let this dissuade you – use it as a marker that you are on the right track and that you need to dig a little deeper to really figure it out.
Questioning WHY you’re doing something and whether it’s right for you at that point in your life, is essential in making sure you don’t end up doing things which may not be right for you. That isn’t even to say that they won’t ever be right for you – it’s just about living a life which isn’t reactionary, but rather one which is crafted around your specific needs and wants.
Have you broken out of any social constructs or expectations? If you have please share them here, I’d love to hear about them.