I keep wondering what my life would be like if I hadn’t fallen into the “normal” trap. I call it a trap because so many people are unhappy. I know I’m confused as to how it happened so easily in my life. Despite the lack of contentment, people who advise the next generation’s biggest life decisions hand out the same road map to everyone: school-work-responsibilities galore. There’s no going backwards, but now I am trying to get focused and redirect in my own life after realizing how far I’ve derailed from my original goals.
What is normal?
What is normal? Well, it is not just a setting on a dryer, as my parents like to think. Normalcy is created from long-lasting trends. A 15-year-old is normally in high school. Jeans and a T-shirt are normal clothes. Being gluten-free is becoming normal. College and marriage are two things that are considered normal, and I am starting to question why.
Go to school to work to support a family.
It’s just what we do.
College is great, if you have a reason to be there. And I mean a specific reason. Many parents and high school counselors pressure children to go to college before they have gotten a real taste of life. Who actually knows what they want to do for the rest of their life when they are 17 or 18? Yes, college classes can open your eyes to new experiences that could help you choose… for a price, an expensive price.
Over 90 percent of middle school aged children want to attend college and less than 30 percent graduate college with a degree, according to a fact sheet by the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research. I suspect that a high number of children think college is just the normal thing to do and they are just expected to go there in order to get a well-paid job. (If only it were that easy, kids.) College isn’t just a continuation of high school, and it should not be treated as such.
With or without college, having a family is normal. Marriage is becoming less normal, according to a Pew Research Center report, but it was still normal when I was younger. In 2014, 50 percent of survey respondents said people can do just as well in life without making marriage and children a priority. Despite the declining urge to marry, the suggestion is still present that it’s just what you do after dating a while. I know I felt the pressure once I got old enough to “settle down”, which was not very old at all. Looking back, my husband and I both agree that it’s much cheaper in our country to be single, children or not.
Let’s move on to work, which is more than normal. Work is a necessity if you want any independence at all. The social suggestions I would like to highlight come from people who could care less about your personal goals. Just take a job, any job, get some money and then go work on that dream of yours when you have the time to do so. To be honest, I don’t know how to do this any other way. Money makes the world turn, and unless you create an earth-shaking business in your early years or have indefinite time and motivation to make your dream a reality, you will need some sort of income.
Now I am going to combine all of these suggested life options and perhaps you will see your own life reflected in the results. Here is my reflection. I went to college and now have two degrees and a student loan payment. I have been working at different gas stations since I graduated high school (over ten years now) to keep up an income when no one in my industry hired me despite my education. I am married with one child. Now most of my time is spent earning a little money or being a “responsible” wife and mother. Only recently have I realized that I wanted more, and I am reaching for my goals again. For a while, I was blinded by the suggestion to be normal.
What would happen, if we weren’t all told to take the same path?
What would happen if we stopped pumping kids into college, and encouraged apprenticeships instead? What would happen if marriage was even less of a big deal, and we didn’t rely on others for our happiness? What would happen if we were trained and motivated to make goals a reality, instead of earning some sort of income as a life goal?
In my dreams.
In my vision of a perfect world, people would stop suggesting that our old routines are still relevant. We would be much less dependent on the system of normalcy. I feel like we pile responsibilities on ourselves only to ask how we became too busy to do anything we actually enjoy. Our vision of a perfect life shouldn’t be an afterthought or a daydream. That vision should be a goal, and everyone should be encouraged to form a goal and make it happen.