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Stop trying to fit into a box! It’s claustrophobic!

The struggle of chasing other people's dreams

In the last 5 years I have had the pleasure of attending quite a few weddings and join dear friends and family members on their special days. Apart from the usual dancing-eating-drinking (responsibly) trio I normally partake in, lately I have been ‘pushed’ to participate in this peculiar ritual: the bouquet throwing. ‘Stop, stop’ they say to the bride, ‘there is one more unmarried lady who wouldn’t want to miss this’! In case you’re not familiar with the custom, in some parts of the world the bride throws their bouquet and whoever catches it will be next to get married (or end up with a twisted ankle from the effort).

I found it funny at first until I realised I was being placed in a box, carefully selected by people who ‘have my interest at heart’ and in their great society-induced wisdom know better what is best for me based on my age, gender and circumstances. Of course getting married is the ‘natural next step’ for me. What else would be? I don’t doubt that some might actually have good intentions and I thank them for their concern, but they would be doing me a greater service if they stopped and questioned their assumptions. For all they know I could already be married but I am not wearing a wedding band, I kept the wedding low key and <gasp> they were not invited. Or maybe my partner and I simply have other plans.

The reality is that these assumptions are so ingrained in what society deems to be expected of people when they reach a certain age that we don’t even stop to question them. We just take them at face value.

There is a point to be made about the boxes that we put ourselves in by allowing society to set expectations for us and then working hard to live up to those expectations.

If you’re in your thirties and beyond you should have, by now:

  • Got a ‘proper’ job
  • Advanced to a managerial position
  • ‘Settled down’
  • Changed several ‘nice’ cars
  • Been on at least one ‘exotic’ holiday

Really? What about what YOU want? Sorry, what was that? Your box is so deep I can’t hear you!

Fair enough, some of the above might coincide with your view of the world but even so, did you ever stop to think if those ‘achievements’ were conscious choices or influenced by societal norms of what is expected of you?

It’s easy to borrow life KPIs from people around us: siblings, friends, neighbours, colleagues, public figures. But the danger is that by ticking so many boxes we become a box ourselves. A miserable one.

Are you trying to fit into a box? If you find yourself frequently saying or thinking the words ‘should’, ‘(in)appropriate’, ‘what would people say’ and ‘it’s only normal that…’ then you probably are. But the beauty of being an individual is exactly that: individuality! The fact that we are not all the same and therefore we don’t have to measure our achievements against the same criteria. You are free to define success on your own terms and live a life in accordance with the norms you set for yourself.

I believe we are the authors of our own stories. And therefore we are capable of changing a story we don’t like anymore. Let me give you a ‘writing’ tip: start with the end in mind. How do you want your story to end? Successfully presumably, but what does success mean? What does it mean FOR YOU?

The sooner you can answer that question with honesty and authenticity, regardless of what you believe the ‘normal’ definition of success dictates, the quicker you will be able to reach your goals.

That means to stop comparing yourself to others and trying to keep up with their achievements. The only person you need to impress is yourself. Because you are the only person you constantly have to live with.

So grab a pen and paper, it’s time to re-write that story! For ‘editorial’ guidance, you know where to find me: [email protected].

Originally published at www.linkedin.com

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