They usually mean well, but your family, your career advisers, college counselors, and anyone else who follows the "traditional path" to success has been lying to you your whole life. They tell you what they know: the recipe for a fulfilling life is going to college, getting a job, buying a house, getting married, and having children.
Now, if this is actually what you want — go for it. But if you're not sure — if you never realized you have the right and the ability to question these expectations — today's the day you learn you do.
Ask yourself, are you doing what you do because you want to do it, or because it's expected of you?
Here are seven of the most common lies we're told about how we should live. Challenge yourself to contrast these rules with your innate needs and desires, then make it your mission to align your external path with the hopes, ambitions, and truths you hold most dear. It's a lifelong process, but you only ever have to worry about the very next step.
1. The Lie: Professional success starts with a college (and maybe graduate school) and ends with an office job.
You can't get a good job without a college degree, and if you don't get a good job, how will you buy a house and provide for your family? You want to be a musician? An artist? Hope you like your parents' basement.
Real talk: It isn't black and white.
There are creative office jobs, and many successful people don't have college degrees. Start by asking yourself how you define "success." You may not care if you have a large income or even consistent work. You may be happiest as a freelance designer or session musician.
If the security of the office environment appeals to you, it's not only possible but necessary that you pursue your passions regardless. Engaging in projects that energize you and harness your creative talents is not only possible. It's necessary to your well-being.
2. The Lie: Marriage and kids are integral to success and happiness.
The end of all the fairy tales is "they lived happily ever after." Your life will be meaningless if you don't find a partner, and pass on your beliefs, your genes, your wisdom.
Real Talk: No one can know what you want or need except you.
But does the idea of spending your life with one person excite you? Does the idea of spending 18 years devoting your life to raising another human being seem fulfilling? You might feel the pressure mounting with every wedding invitation and birth announcement, but a long-term partner and family life is just one way to live.
If you don't want to be a parent, you will not be a good one. Drown out the noise and advice and figure out what you want. The path that makes you happiest, most excited, engaged, and fulfilled is the right one.
3. The Lie: You're not respectable until you own a house.
It's the best investment you can make.You can't live in the city, in an apartment forever. You need room for your family, a dog, a garden!
Real Talk: It's a huge commitment that should only be made if you're committing to something you actually want.
Owning a house forces you to live in one place for quite some time, often sacrificing a lot of your income to mortgage. There are so many things you could do with all that money, all that freedom. If you don't have so many financial obligations, you have more flexibility. You can leave a job that doesn't make you happy. You can travel to Nepal. Don't invest in someone else's ideals. Invest in your dream life.
4. The Lie: Other people have it figured out.
If people look like they have their lives together, they probably do. You should replicate their choices to find your own fulfillment.
Real Talk: The approval of others isn't a good reason to do anything, ever.
What are your values? What do you care for and what do you want to accomplish in your life? Visualize what you want your life to look like — without other people's opinions factoring in at all — and begin to take steps toward creating that. Just because a certain lifestyle or career makes someone else happy doesn’t mean it will make you happy.
5. The Lie: Happiness is something you earn after years of slogging through life.
You'll get to enjoy yourself when you retire. The first sixty years of your life are preparing you for that eventual relaxation.
Real Talk: We're not promised a tomorrow. Not even a today. Happiness is not something to postpone.
You can find joy in every moment. Be mindful, be present, and look for things in your life to be grateful for. If you’re unhappy with something, change it. Happiness is not the result of fulfilling other people's expectations. It's the result of listening to your heart and following it.
6. The Lie: Job security, relationship security, real estate security are worth more than taking a risk to find something you love.
You'd give up all this to pursue underwater basketweaving? That's crazy. You'll lose everything.
Real Talk: If you're living a life you're not absolutely in love with, anything you lose will be a small price to pay for unearthing your true path.
Listen to your intuition. Do some research, prepare, and take calculated risks. If you’re going to quit your job, know what you’ll be doing next. If you’re going to start a business, have some capital saved up. If you succeed, you win. If you fail, you learn.
7. The Lie: The more stuff you have, the happier you'll be.
If it doesn't look like an episode of MTV Cribs, you're wasting your life.
Real Talk: Cars, TVs, real estate, clothes — it's all just frosting. In fact, it might be distracting you from what you really want.
If you get rid of the junk, you'll simplify your life, and start to live more consciously. Recognize that success doesn’t come from external achievement; it comes from internal growth and fulfillment. It doesn't matter what it looks like to anyone else. It only matters what it feels like to you.
Vishnu Subramaniam is a writer, coach, and author of nine self published books, including The Sacred Art of Letting Go: Walk 12 Steps with Spiritual Masters to Let Go of Past Relationships and Find Peace Today. He attended UCLA and worked as an immigration lawyer, but left the legal professional to help people overcome breakups, get out of a rut and build a life they've always wanted.