Welcome to this week’s In Therapy post. Where I discuss a variety of topics that can be worked through in therapy, and also give tips and insight into how you can do something whether you are in therapy or not.
In this post, I want to talk about a peeve of mine – society dictated to-do’s.
Have you ever wondered why we have certain unspoken rules that society asks us to follow? Examples of these are
- This is what society expects
- You are born, go to school, go to university (a gap year is out of the question, why waste time?), get a job and stay in it forever even if you are miserable, get married, buy a house, have children, retire, look after the grandchildren and then die (a hopefully peaceful death).
- You should be perfect
- You must achieve high marks in all your exams and courses
- You should look after others and not be selfish
- You have to have children
These are called “categorical imperatives”, which are unrealistic and very generalised ideas of how someone should live their lives.
Well, what about those of us that are naturally inclined to not fit into these societal expectations? What about those of us that want something different than the list I’ve described above?
Does it make her a bad woman because she’s chosen not to have children?
Does it make them less successful because they don’t own their own home?
Does he deserve to struggle in a job he doesn’t enjoy, just because it is the right thing to do to keep a job no matter what?
I am an advocate for rebelling and finding our own paths in life. I have done that with mine, and even though there’s been ups and downs – who doesn’t have ups and down in their lives? – I’ve enjoyed the journey more than I would have settling for a “traditional” job that pays more.
“You could be earning more doing this and that job” was something someone told me once. My answer? “I bet I would be earning more, but I would lose the will to live working in an office, in a job that relates vaguely to what I studied and what I am passionate about.”
“Why don’t you own your own home yet” is something I also hear – well it’s expensive to start with and it’s not really a priority. I like where we live, and when the time comes, we will look into it, but it’s not something I’m going to stress over. I shouldn’t have a home, I shouldn’t have to look into buying a home if I don’t want to!
This brings me to the next point.
We could rephrase some of those societal imperatives into questions that free us all to make the choice that works best for us, rather than what somebody somewhere in the ether decided was the be-all-and-end all of how-to-live-your-life.
Let’s go with the list above:
Being born – we don’t have much choice, so let’s make the best of life, eh!
Going to school – it’s something we can’t get out of and we should really listen to our parents in this one! It will be worth it in the end, and this is where we make our first friends and have our first social experiences, which could be the only thing some of us get out of school, and that is fine by me!
Going to University – In some countries, going to Uni is a necessity more than a luxury. But even in those cases, there are alternatives, like apprenticeships or learning a trade. Some people might frown at this but this is an important thing to remember:
They are not living your life, so it doesn’t matter if they frown or smile at your decisions!
Don’t even think of a gap year – why the heck not? There’s a lot someone can learn when going away to volunteer or just to travel around the world. It might be the best time to get to know yourself more and to figure out what you want out of life.
Get a job and stay in it forever – why? Why? Why? Whyyyyy!? If I’m not happy, then I won’t do it and plan my exit. Get a new job that suits your life better and give your notice. There’s nothing wrong with following your gut feeling and finding what’s right for you.
And besides, who says you need a job for life? What if you go into entrepreneurship or self-employment like I have? Very non-conventional but oh-so rewarding!
So when you get that gut-feeling of “oh I don’t like this” or “this isn’t for me” or “I feel pressured to do something I don’t want”, or if your inner critic kicks off and starts judging you and finding fault with everything you do that defies the general rules of society, stop and think why you are doing something and what you really want in relation to it.
Don’t allow guilt or shame to keep you in something that wasn’t meant for you in the first place! Staying in it might lead to mental health and physical health problems, and that’s not good for you or anyone around you!
If you feel you should, must or have to do something. Stop. Let go of the urge or pressure to be or do certain things. Sit with the uncertainty of where to go next, honour where you are in your life right now, and befriend the uncertainty. All of it is temporary and you will find your truth and what you really want through letting go and just being.
What is important to you is what matters, and if you are not affecting yourself or others negatively or in any way, then go with your gut feeling when it comes to the path you want to take in life.
Be brave. Defy the norm and be yourself at all costs!
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