Several recent events in my life have dislodged me from the traditional track of U.S. society. I’m sure you know what I mean. We all have a set path we are expected to follow: Go to high school, get good grades, apply for college, go to college, choose a major, go on spring break, apply for internships and summer jobs, graduate, get a job, get a house, get married, have kids and live happily ever after.
I’m sure some of you have felt these subtle societal expectations. As a first-year, did you feel expected to do certain things and now, as maybe a junior or senior, are you more inclined to say, “I’m not supposed to do that any more?”
While we’re in that rut, we don’t give it a second thought. We are doing what we’re supposed to do, acting as we’re supposed to act and all seems right in the world. Let’s take a look at four of life’s biggest expectations.
1. Going to college – “Where are you going to school?”
It’s what we all do, right? Graduate high school, and go to college? For some it’s a public university, for others a community college, but this is a path we are programmed from age 6 to follow. So here we are now, half of us trying to get out as painlessly as possible.
How many classes have you taken where your goal is not to learn, become enlightened or enhance a skill, but rather to get the best grade with the least amount of work? I understand that degrees are needed for many jobs, but beyond that, why are so many of us fixated on spending four years of our lives on something we do not really want to do?
2. Deciding your major – “So what are you majoring in?”
Isn’t this the first question you are asked by family, friends and relatives during the holidays? We are identified not by who we are as individuals or what our dreams are, but by what our chosen field of study is.
People ask us the same questions when we are 17 or 18 – before we even step foot on campus – already wanting us to carve into stone what we will do with our lives. And when we change majors, people give us funny looks. They might say it’s “OK,” but we’re subtly considered aimless, wandering and unsure.
3. Getting a job – “And what are you hoping to do when you get out of school?”
Or maybe it’s, “So where are you working now?” Such questions clearly establish the expectations of those in our lives. We are to get a good, safe, well-paying job, sit in our cubicles for eight hours a day, go home and watch reality TV, save some money and be content for life.
Why are the questions not, “Are you happy?” or “Do you enjoy it?” Instead, most people only care about the cubby holes we have chosen for ourselves and where we go to waste our days in return for cold hard cash.
4. Love – “Are you dating?”
Ever feel weird saying no to this question? We are expected to have a significant other, to be monogamous and to get married upon graduating. Already, five of my friends are engaged or married, and it’s really starting to freak me out. Why, in the Midwest, are we so determined to settle down and plow head-first into life’s rut as quickly as possible?
I have several friends on the East Coast who do not know of anyone getting married. What’s the difference between these cultures? Why are people fixated here on tying the knot – and so amazed when others have not done the same?
Seriously, ask around. Ninety percent of those with whom you talk will either be dating someone regularly, have a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” or be planning to get married – that is, if they’re not married already. Is this because they have really found that special someone, or because they feel the pressure to find someone, tie the knot and settle down?
Amid these expectations, we cease being individuals, and instead become branded by our school, job and marital status. My bigger question is, “Why?” Why do none of us realize this happening? Why do we go day to day, play the game and accept this as “just the way it is”? Why are we made to feel inadequate if we are not dating, aimless if we do not have our majors figured out, incomplete without steady jobs or like failures if we get only average grades?
Recently, I have been shaken in all four of these areas, and have been forced to ask myself what I really want from life. If you take the time to seriously ask yourself the same question, you might discover that much of what you’re doing is not really for you.
Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]