The myth of the roadmap.
When I was a freshman in college, I was convinced there was a formula for how the next few years of my life needed to look. A road map, if you will. I had my major in strategic communication picked out, I was getting involved in all the right organizations that seemed to guarantee my post-grad success, and in the process, I was falling victim to the lies that surround society’s expectations of success. The lies were tiny and unassuming at first – logical, even.
If I can get on the executive board of this organization, I’ll have a better shot at a job right out of college.
If I can land a solid full-time job right out of college, I’ll have a better shot at working my way up the corporate ladder to a more successful position.
But after a while, they started to take an ugly turn. Because there came a time during my sophomore year when I realized I didn’t want to chase the same dreams that my peers were chasing. Their dream jobs were in public relations and big agencies and corporate America. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. That’s what I thought I wanted, too. That’s what I thought was the standard – the expectation of success for someone with a degree in communication.
I didn’t discover this until after college, but my personality type according to the Myers-Briggs is an INFJ. And INFJs need careers that are rooted in purpose. Careers that are rooted in doing work that we know is impacting people’s lives and changing them for the better. It was this disconnect – between what I wanted and what I thought I wanted – that sent me down a spiral of self-doubt. Those tiny and unassuming lies grew into bigger and harrier ones.
I’m not going to be as successful as everyone else because I don’t want to work in the corporate world.
I’m not going to be successful because I don’t know what kind of career I want anymore.
I’m not going to be successful because I’m already halfway through college and it’s too late to change my major and I’m not going to have a job lined up and I’m going to end up homeless.
The last one’s a bit of a stretch. But the standard of success that had been planted in my head was turning my mind into a toxic environment. The need to conform to everyone else’s careers and dreams was smothering my creativity and my potential to step into something bigger than these expectations.
This world tells us that we need to do a lot of things, to be a lot of things and to have a lot of things in order to be considered successful. There’s a lot of pressure to conform to the way everyone else is navigating life – from high school to college to adulthood. There’s pressure to have a degree in a respectable field that’ll get you an impressive job. There’s pressure to get married by a certain age and to have babies soon after. There’s pressure to make our way through life in a way that’s acceptable and normal, that doesn’t disrupt the expectations that this world demands of us. It’s all a myth.
In the age of social media and being engrossed in everyone else’s lives outside of our own, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on something. You might be a couple years behind working toward your degree while everyone else has fallen into their full-time careers. You might not be anywhere close to being married, but all of your friends are announcing their pregnancies. Or, like me, you might be feeling called to a different type of career path than the one that everyone else in your major is propelling toward. And all of this is okay. It is okay, and it’s going to be okay.
If you’re always tracing the life trajectories of others, the comparison will gladly step in and do its worst damage – if you let it. But you don’t have to let it. We each hold more power over our lives than any set of society’s expectations do. The best thing you can do is focus inward rather than outward. Dig deeper into the truth of who you are, and once you discover that, hold on tight to that truth and run with it. There’s nothing more impressive or successful than standing confidently in who you are and where you are – regardless of who or where everyone else is.