No one escapes society—or social influences. Although we may consider ourselves free and capable of making our own decisions, the truth is that the people we surround ourselves with—authority figures, mentors, guardians, peers—all have a hand in determining how we live our lives.
As we grow, it’s crucial to be skeptical about society’s life lessons, about what it expects from us, and whether we should expect those things from ourselves.
If you feel like you need to or want to fit into the picture-perfect image that society has painted for you, you need to re-evaluate, because you might be letting society do all the thinking for you. Here are some things society says you need to do – but you really don’t.
1. You Have To Fit Your Stereotype
Media teaches us a lot about the culture we live in. Books, movies, TV shows – they form a societal lens for us to look through, and we see what they create – stereotypes.
We’re conditioned to believe specific things about specific people – based on how they look or what they believe. And we often internalize these stereotypes.
We think that we need to confirm by having specific interests, wearing certain clothes, or being good at a particular job. The result is that things like race, gender, or sexual orientation become a tool for society to trap people inside boxes with definitive labels.
But the truth is that most people aren’t clean cut stereotypes. We’re diverse and complex individuals with varied interests, skills, and strengths. So we need to embrace our authentic selves—instead of trying to squeeze into a box that doesn’t fit.
2. You Need To Go To College
Sure, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you’re going to need a degree, but there are plenty of ways to generate an income without having and spending money on a college education.
And a degree on your resume is far less likely to land you a job than your connections. These days, most people land jobs because of their network.
Connections and friendships will usually get you further on your job search than your major. And employers care more about your actual skills than a degree.
Although college can be an extremely valuable and rewarding experience for some people, the idea that you have to go to college to be successful or get a good job is a total myth.
To prove it, just think of a few college dropouts you know of – like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, or Richard Branson. If college doesn’t feel right to you, then diving into the workforce might be a better option.
Getting some real-world experience, doing something you enjoy might help you more in the long run than being locked in a classroom for years while digging yourself deeper and deeper into debt.
3. You Have To Settle For A Career
Most people believe that the career they choose coming out of college will put them on a path they must follow for the remainder of their lives—but the truth is, that they can stray from that path whenever they want.
And finding new paths is actually becoming more common. In our ever-evolving world, having diverse jobs and experiences is better than limiting yourself to only one thing. Career changes are possible for anyone who is willing to learn and adapt.
So, don’t worry too much. You can always change the course of your professional life if you’re not happy with it.
4. You Need To Meet The Expectations Of Your Age Group
There are lots of people out there who judge others based on their age. These people tend to think that there are rigid milestones everyone needs to meet, or that maturity level should match age appropriately.
But the length of time you’ve spent on earth doesn’t determine anything about your life. There are no rules about where you should be, what you should have done, or how you should be living. If you don’t own a house by 40—that’s ok; if you aren’t settled down by 30—that’s ok too.
Your age doesn’t determine how valid your life is – but if you feel unsatisfied, you should be honest about why that is.
5. You Have To Get Married
Another ridiculous social expectation is that everyone should eventually get married. Because society deems marriage as “normal,” people who choose not to marry are often viewed as weird or that there’s something’s wrong with them.
Society might lie, but the facts don’t. About 50% of all marriages end in divorce. As we grow older, the pressure to settle down with a partner gets more intense, and it can lead us to make commitments that perhaps we really don’t want.
Marriage is a lifestyle that isn’t for everyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be one of those things we do, just to make others happy.
6. You Have To Have Kids
Just like getting married, society expects everyone to become a parent. Some people view procreation as the purpose of life, but, again, it’s just a lifestyle that some people desire, and others don’t.
Most ideas surrounding “adult” life center around parenting, and if you want to be seen as an adult, you might feel the pressure to conform. If you do want to raise children, that’s great. If you don’t want to, that’s fine, too!
For some people, the concept of not having kids is unimaginable; but for others, the idea of having kids is unthinkable—and both views are okay. No matter what you want when it comes to having kids, the decision is yours—so make sure that you’re the one choosing what you want, and not society.
7. You Need To Own A Lot Of Things To Be Happy
We live in a materialistic world where so many of us believe that we’ll be happier if we have nice things. We keep wanting more – whether it’s the newest iPhone, a fancy car, a big house, or something else.
Research shows that money doesn’t buy happiness. While having money certainly makes life easier, even if you have all the wealth in the world, you’re just as likely to feel depressed or anxious as anyone else.
Material wealth is a common value, but it’s not the only one. When people focus on their possessions, they often push other values like self-esteem and healthy relationships aside. They end up struggling to find authentic joy in their world of material belongings.
8. You Have To Be Religious To Be A Good Person
A lot of people in society believe that the only way to be a good person is to be religious. And that if you don’t identify with any of the major religions of the world, then clearly you have no values or morals.
While most religions typically have morality at the core of their teachings, morality and spirituality don’t always go hand in hand. You don’t need religion to be a good person.
Secular humanists possess ethical values like kindness, compassion, and altruism. You don’t need to subscribe to an entire belief system to be morally just.
9. You Have To Trust And Obey
All Authority Society loves to ingrain this idea in our heads. From parents to professional figures, to religious leaders to government officials—we are led to believe that we must obey authority.
As soon as you begin to question this belief with critical thinking, you’ll see how unjust and irrational authority can be. Although this isn’t always the case, you should never blindly follow or trust authority, simply because they have power.
If everyone followed orders because “rules are rules,” society would never seek progress. Think about it. The greatest historical movements would never have been possible without the people who rebelled against authority.
Humans are profoundly social beings. We have an inherent need for connection, acceptance, and love—and some people will do whatever it takes to gain social approval.
The fear of being left out, abandoned, or lonely often pushes people to suppress their authentic desires. You probably know that forcing yourself to do something ‘just because someone told you to’ is not a good decision.
But it’s harder to be mindful when society tells you to do or believe certain things that go against your true intentions. We must question the beliefs and social norms that we inherited to be able to start on the path of independent thinking.
Then, we can live as our most authentic selves and make decisions that support our well-being. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!