When I grow up I want to be an accountant
Tobias Haulden gets in mess dealing with the expectations of modern life
In my teenage years I felt a pressure on me to travel down a certain path, a pressure from society as a whole, channelled through my parents, and grandparents, who were really only reemphasising what they had been taught. It’s almost like there was a roadmap printed out for me from birth, albeit with a few forks in the road or twists and turns offered up as “choice”. My life so far as I enter my thirties: born, school, university, work, house, married, kids. There’s not much further to go to the end of my path, much the same as millions others at my age, give or take. So the pressure on me felt like a burden. It made me feel that I didn’t really have any direction of my own and more like there was a place off in the far distance was pointed out to me and I was given a friendly shove and told to be on my way.
Take the high road
For my part I attempted the alternative whenever I could. Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken (one of only two poems that ever meant anything to me) was an inspiration of sorts, reminding myself of the line “…two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference”. Thing is Robert, all paths lead to the same place, in the end. I think back now to some of the choices I have had to make during life, which university to go to, which house to buy, what music to listen to. Choices like these do feel like they make a huge difference to life, in the short term, but when you boil it down it’s all the same.
There is certainly a minority of people who do find a truly alternative path but I imagine that, of these, most still carry with them burdens of expectations or at least suffer the consequences of life in a lonely furrow generally unaccepted by normal society.
How am I?
So despite all my protestation I need to ask for your forgiveness at this point, as I say I’ve done exactly what was expected of me. I have a nice home, a safe 9 to 5 job and a wife and child I love. Within mankind there is clearly an innate desire, an instinct to find a home, to settle, to find a family. Our earliest ancestors would not have had the legacy of f society telling them what to do but they still followed the basic recipe I’ve been taking about. It’s not simply home, work, family that bothers me – those three alone are fine, in fact are essential facets of life, it’s everything else that comes with it, and this everything else really isn’t necessary to life and well-being.
The wrong stuff
Stuff like the 5-day working week which we all take for granted. The routine life pattern of millions and millions of people that was initially introduced as a way making more cars; Fords to be precise. Things like adverts. At my local train station (Levenshulme) there’s an advert for Railcard featuring a young lad pulling a face with his fingers above his head in a L-sign, you might have seen it. The message is “you’re a loser if you don’t get a railcard”. Really? I’m a loser for not having a railcard?? Really??? These kinds of messages in everyday life are just the tip of the ice berg.
I can live with all this though, I’m used to it. It’s all I’ve grown to know. And as I touched upon earlier I’ve settled into the groove without too much regret. I’m comfortable with my own burdens. What I wasn’t prepared for is what came next. The expectations that come with raising a child. Oh my god. The expectations explode and I’ve not grown up to be used to this. It’s almost, just like with new beards, that a child’s upbringing is public property. Everyone and their dog feels they have an opinion to give and I have to listen. There seems to be only one “very right” way to bring up a child and deviation from this gets you judged. But the expected behaviour (often known as government advice) is changing so often that how can any of it be considered right or wrong? Most of it goes against a parent’s natural instinct too.
So to finish, to bring this to a close. Society, family and peer groups place expectations on each other and themselves. Mostly these are perfectly well-intended and perhaps even healthy in a lot of cases but they also cause unnecessary burden for individuals to behave, even to feel a certain way, the normal way. Many of these expectations have been born in a different age and so are not relevant these days, yet they are still taken for granted by a critical mass. Many aren’t even healthy anymore, never mind whether they are relevant. Over the past hundred years so much and yet so little has changed in the way we conduct our lives. I believe all of our modern ills, stress, depression, are caused by living with the burdens of popular myth.
So I ask you to do one thing if you feel at all bothered to do so, to not accept anything at face value. To not do anything just because it’s what you think you’re supposed to do, including, and most importantly, the big things. If we all could ask the same questions at the same time our lives could be a whole lot better.