By Allie Brickman
“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” -Anonymous
Many of us are constantly bombarded with the notion that, by now, we should fully and completely understand ourselves and what we want in life. Self-discovery is encouraged in one’s youth- usually in one’s teenage years- but by the time you get to be in your mid-twenties people expect you to pretty much know where you’re headed, who you are, and have all your ‘stuff’ figured out.
This puts a huge pressure on us to get all of our self-exploration done early and to figure out the right path to take “before it’s too late.” I know, for myself, I do not yet have a clear picture of what I want my future to be. I know my career, and some aspects of what I want in a partner, but the rest is sort of like this gray- ever evolving and shifting- blob. And this makes me uncomfortable. I started thinking to myself…why? I’ve come to the conclusion that it is partly due to human nature. We want to have everything figured out. Both religion and science are two sources used to help satisfy our burning desire to understand the world around us. As humans, we want to know…which doesn’t stop when it comes to ourselves.
Secondly, society places a large emphasis on having it all figured out at a young age. Kids grow up watching love stories like Cinderella, Snow White, etc. where the main characters find everlasting love in their teens. While there are more and more movies depicting non-traditional stories of love (whether with age, sexuality, etc), the majority focus their love stories on young individuals finding their perfect mate and settling down early on. And by the time you’re out of college if you’re still not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life, you’re going to feel the backlash from society, and most likely, your family.
While society may have you thinking you’re far behind the pack by not having everything figured out just yet, consider that many psychologists believe that stages of development carry on throughout your entire life…birth until death. With this mindset, it can be argued that it is actually impossible to have everything figured out early on. Or, perhaps to a less extreme, that one’s vision of a set or perfect future is likely to shift over time in some respects anyway.
If you are 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or even 85, and you still find yourself on the self-discovery path…that’s normal! Don’t berate yourself for still having question marks in any realm of your life. Taking your time and enjoying life is the best way to find the true answers, rather than rushing into something because you feel you’re in a time-crunch.
Allow yourself those question marks and free yourself from the bonds of how you think you “should” be. In REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) which I practice with my clients, we lovingly refer to “should’s” as “shoulding all over yourself.” As soon as you take the pressure off yourself to have it all figured out, you can start enjoying your path of discovery. So instead of scrambling to figure out the map or to adjust the GPS, just have a seat and enjoy the ride.