My breakup with societal expectation, over coffee

By Roan Farb, Opinion Asst. Editor – rfarb@unca.edu

After the age of about five or six, people began asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Ever since, I’ve had a never-ending conversation with myself.
Don’t get me wrong, wanting children to develop a sense of what sect of capitalism they’d prefer to buy into from an early age is nothing short of a noble cause for parents to have.
That said, it’s a bizarre concept to initially wrap your head around as a kid; to realize there are expectations of you to (eventually) do something with yourself.
You have to constantly hatch a blueprint for your existence.
That seems to be a central hinge of this whole “society thing” we’ve all bought into.
Nobody can go through life as they please; we as a species have developed an expectation for desire and ambition out of every single human being to bust out the womb swinging.
It’s hilariously unrealistic to expect everyone to have a sense of direction.
Yet, that’s a dominant part of not only our American culture but others’ as well.
We eternally assume those around us desire accomplishment, and if we discover someone isn’t exactly “shooting for the stars”, we often write them off as a lazy or unintelligent.
There’s this brand of negativity and inferiority we’ve labeled those with tiny or blurry dreams in society, for example, we celebrate sending our children off to a four-year college after high school, but it’s not nearly as respected or celebrated when a child decides to go into the workforce right out of school. There’s this attitude that a 28-year-old who hasn’t done anything but work an uneventful, minimum-wage job since age 17 is just not doing it right.
And I’m not saying that working a gas station job for 11 years straight is exactly an admirable career path, I’m saying that we look upon stagnation as a negative and sloppy quality.
We’re expected to always keep the ball rolling, to be making moves towards bettering our position in life every step of the way.
And it’s bullshit, really, to assume every kid’s going to eventually figure out what to do with their life.
We may be an advanced species, but at our core, we’re still animals.
The way modern society has been constructed insists you essentially figure out a (hopefully) enjoyable, or at least bearable, use for yourself in the cogs of humanity.
And what’s worse is it’s ingrained in our minds from childhood that if you don’t find some sort of way to stand out, you’ll fall behind while your peers shine.
We, even from an early age, teach each other that not wanting to advance is not OK.
It’s all a game and you have to know what card you’re going to play next, even in elementary school.
By coexisting, we challenge one another to evolve and develop insight into the human experience.
And if someone can’t do that, we often perceive them as lazy or boring.
We are taught to shun those who aren’t able to adapt when their plans crash and burn.
We don’t account for people feeling defeat.

Society doesn’t let people get caught up in the pain or loneliness of failure, yet it’s certainly not a new aspect of being alive.
So why is such an obvious part of the human experience just ignored by modern day society?
We look down on high school and college dropouts, homeless people, criminals and drug addicts.
Rather, we don’t simply look down on them, we make examples out of them.
We turn a blind eye to their misdirection, to their failed climb to the top, and we point and laugh, and exclaim to our kids: “Don’t turn out like these assholes!”
You’re raised to fear ending up in jail, addicted, unemployed or homeless. Instead of explaining that these are results of losing your way in life, we tell children sufferers were stupid, crazy, or didn’t want to succeed badly enough.
We teach each other that lack of ambition is unacceptable, that to fail to adapt to society and change successfully makes you inferior.
How can someone recover from failure, when our society demonizes, to a horrifying degree, those who feel lost and give up?
In a way, we’ve built ourselves to self-destruct.
We wonder why there’s a sharp rise in anxiety disorders, yet we universally enslave our children in a perpetual, predatory game of sink or swim.

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