How to know if you want to go to college, get married, buy a house

Berrak Sarikaya always knew that she wanted to be a lawyer. In high school, she launched into mock trial and debate. The eldest son of Turkish immigrant parents, Sarikaya understood the importance of getting into a good university and the need for scholarships to finance that education. “One of the main reasons we came to the US was so that my brother and I could get a good education and have better opportunities,” says 37-year-old Ella Sarikaya. “So there was definitely that pressure that if I don’t go to college, then it will all have been a waste.”

When it came time for higher education, Sarikaya’s hard work paid off. She enrolled in her dream school, George Washington University, and lived in her house. Her freshman year was enjoyable, she says, but exhausting, with full days of classes, studying, homework and working at a grocery store and a bank. However, in her second year, her shine had faded. Her classes were not challenging and she was not satisfied with the course work. In addition, the tuition increased and her parents took out loans to supplement her scholarship.

At this point, Sarikaya was working in law firms and felt that this experience provided her with more real-world training than sitting in a classroom. Although college was what her family and society “expected” of her, an achievement many young Americans also feel pressured to achieve, Sarikaya dropped out of college.

“There was a lot of having to exceed or move away from people’s expectations,” says Sarikaya.

Among the many chapters and milestones in life, Americans have come to view events such as college, marriage, home ownership, parenting, and career success as achievements they must accomplish to maintain status. what. Because so many follow these “traditional” paths, both in real life and in Western popular culture, we learn from a young age to model and emulate these behaviors. Family and cultural traditions can dictate what is expected of us throughout life, particularly among women, which can lead to anxiety when those benchmarks are not met. When people are rewarded and celebrated for graduating from college or getting married, we internalize these events as desirable. Thus, people may feel pressured to conform to an assumed mold or fear alienation when they go against convention.

“What researchers have found is that people adapt their behaviors to those around us, primarily to gain acceptance,” says Daryl Van Tongeren, an associate professor of psychology at Hope College. “A lot of times we keep doing what everyone else is doing because we want to fit in, we want to be accepted, we want to be liked.”

When the culture provides limited road maps for the future, these life events can seem non-negotiable. Outside pressure from family, friends, and the media further muddies the waters, which can create an emotional conundrum when trying to determine what you really want for the future. Through time and reflection, you can use your values ​​and motivations as guides to a fully authentic life.

live on autopilot

Many people don’t stop to consider what they really want out of life, says Van Tongeren. They consume media and watch their loved ones move through the world checking familiar boxes, “and we generally try to stick to those scripts,” she says. When life is full of “shoulds”, you should going to college, getting married, buying a nice house, having children, becoming the boss, etc., there is very little room for improvisation. Because many of these milestones are tied to wealth, those without the means to pay for tuition or a mortgage may feel like they lack an accurate blueprint for how to approach life.

However, it is not until you stray from the path, either on purpose or by accident, that you consider whether the well-trodden path is right for you. When Sarikaya realized that college was not all he had hoped for, he took further risks in his career, moving from law-related positions to working in communications and government affairs, eventually striking out on his own as Independent. Content marketing strategy consultant. (She maintains her dream of going to law school.) “Sometimes there are these tipping points where we can assess our behavior relative to what society is telling us,” says Van Tongeren. “In those moments, we try to get clarity on whether or not we are living a life of authenticity.”

look inside

To focus on the events and activities that make your life meaningful, you must get to the root of your motivations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people feel more competent, more connected to others, and more independent when they are intrinsically motivated, that is, internally or self-motivated. When your parents, friends, or other outside forces pressure you to, say, pursue a career in medicine when you really want to work in fashion (known as extrinsic motivation), you may feel stressed, fearful of missing out. What are your colleagues doing? dissatisfied or worried that it might upset a parent if it strays from the path, says Jeremy Nicholson, a personality and social psychologist.

The things you are intrinsically motivated to do are the things that will feel most authentic. However, if you grew up with certain expectations, obligations, and social role models, knowing what satisfies you can be difficult. Nicholson recommends paying attention to your feelings when facing important milestones. Are you running from something or running towards it? Are you afraid of being seen as a failure if you don’t aspire to be a supervisor at work?

People should think about how competent, connected and autonomous they would feel when facing certain responsibilities, such as raising children. “For example, if they believed they would make good spouses or parents, enjoyed being around a particular partner or children, and felt free to choose, then the decision would probably be self-determined,” says Nicholson. “Conversely, if they didn’t feel completely ready for the role, didn’t really see themselves connected to a spouse or children, and were being pressured by other people to make the decision, then they may not personally value reaching the milestone at that time.” . .”

Another question you should ask yourself is why you may want a big house, send your kids to a certain school, or climb the corporate ladder, says Mercedes Coffman, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Is it because you want validation from others? Are you in med school because your mom and dad told you that’s a career they’d be proud of?” she says. “That is just getting out of the validation of others. That is not a real goal of yours. That external satisfaction never lasts long, Coffman adds, and you’re likely to feel disappointed and look for the next “thing” you can get approval for. Alternatively, if you’ve always wanted a house with a big yard so you can rescue dogs and host your large family for reunions out of your genuine appreciation for animals and their loved ones, your motivations are internally driven.

Remember, your self-esteem is not measured by the validation and acceptance of others, says therapist Natasha Sharma, CEO of NKS Therapy. “It’s not about asking the question, ‘What do you want out of life?’ which sets it up again for external measurements and some sort of ‘measured entity’ or ‘output,’” says Sharma. “Instead, ask yourself, ‘What am I enjoying about life?’”

Consider your values

Pretty simple at face value, “What do I enjoy about life?” is a deceptively difficult question. Since no one enters this world as a fully realized human, this requires some trial and error. Coffman says to consider what naturally excites you and nurture those desires. “If you lived on an island and there was no one around to please or impress people, what would you want in your life?” she says. “What would you be doing? What are your passions and natural abilities? What naturally excites you?

Think about the things you value most in life and compare your decisions to these values. For example, if you’re considering taking a new, higher-paying job that might look good on paper but would involve moving out of your community, reflect on how much you value your autonomy, relationships, and finances. “If people really value autonomy and they really value relationships, but maybe they value financial freedom a little less, can they choose a job that gives them autonomy and allows them to pursue deep relationships, even if it means they need less money? money?” Van Tongeren says.

Or, if you and your partner are wondering whether you should get married, each of you should reflect on what shaped your views on marriage. Did your parents fight constantly and did you fear that your marriage might be similarly mired in conflict? Do you want to get married because all your friends are doing it and you feel left out? Having answers to these questions can help you move forward authentically.

This job is hard and, frankly, terrifying. Few people would willingly embark on a thought exercise that puts their whole life into question. However, consider the alternative: continuing with a career or relationship that you are not passionate about because you never considered other possibilities. At any age, setting aside time and intentionality to figure out what motivates you and whether you’ve been living authentically can be illuminating. This is not to say that a life filled with “traditional” markers of success and happiness isn’t worthwhile, but a little contemplation can determine whether these milestones are desirable for you. your.

Correction, September 19, 10 am: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Berrak Sarikaya’s brothers. She has a brother.

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