Today I celebrated the graduations of two good friends, and because they’re both a bit older than many people are when they graduate from college, it made me think about the unreasonable expectations that we set on people to accomplish certain things on some arbitrary timeline.
These two friends are exceptional. One took time off to work and intern and save money and find the right school. She has moved around the country a few times, and she’s had some cool jobs along the way. She eventually found the right fit, and it’s taking her to exactly where she wants to be – both in her career and in her life and pursuit of love. All the puzzle pieces just fell into place in a way that they couldn’t have if she’d followed the traditional, the expected path.
There is no one size fits all approach to life.
My other friend served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. He got married and bought a house because those were the things that made sense at the time and in that context. He had a whole life, and he lived it to the fullest. It wasn’t until after he completed his military service that he decided to go back to school to pursue a degree.
And I think about the way I did things, too. I dropped out, worked full-time, learned a whole new city and made it my home, and then I moved across the country to create a new home. I tacked on a year to my undergraduate career, and it was weird for me, even being just a year older, to be surrounded by so many people who were younger than me, partially because their experiences were so vastly different from mine. I think that maybe if we felt a little more free to do what’s right for us rather than what’s expected then the student body would have been more diverse. As a young mom, too, I see that there are still people who think it’s completely absurd to have a baby out of wedlock or for a woman to raise a child on her own. But it works for me.
I used to (and honestly, sometimes still do) measure myself against what many people perceive to be normal. But I’m not normal, and I don’t want to be. In many ways, I think that striving for what’s normal and what’s socially acceptable can hurt us, because we go against our selves, our truths. We’re all so different; how can we all have the same path forward?
I reject the idea of being normal in favor of being true.
Max’s generation might face fewer obstacles to pursuing happiness, to telling their own stories. There’s more awareness now about the broad range of gender identities and about sexual and romantic orientations. We’re becoming more likely to call out tragedy porn and tell the truth, even when it’s not sexy or it doesn’t have a happy ending. We’re moving in the right direction in many ways.
And then there are times when I hear his class singing, “The girls on the bus say, ‘Look at my hair, look at my hair, look at my hair,'” and “the boys on the bus say, ‘Look at my muscles, look at my muscles, look at my muscles.'” and I worry that we’ve made no progress at all.
There’s something attractive about being normal. I wish it weren’t the case; fitting in isn’t a good enough reason to be unhappy.