Surveys in women’s magazines have such strong allure because they can tell us, once we calculate the results, where we fall on the unique but still comfortably in good company range. Of course we want to be seen as a valuable and distinct individual, while not in any way too out-of-the-ordinary. We need concrete, objective definitions for the boundaries then.
But life doesn’t work that way. Plenty of us will do the normal things as we progress through adulthood – find a steady job, pair up and create our own family, settle down with a house and within a community. But the details will vary wildly and so those concrete definitions of the boundaries get complicated.
We don’t want to be ‘wrong’ – not make the wrong decision, or somehow not right and therefore not fit in. Except that survey is just based on someone else’s opinion of what is right, on conjecture. Or on an agglomeration of averages – a high percentage of people picked this school or that profession which must make them more right. But right for whom?
My mom came across Margaret Mead as she experienced college in her 30s and 40s – when I was in grade school and high school. She became enamored of Mead’s assertion that one should have a different spouse for the different stages of adulthood (Margaret’s way of proving her own path as the right one, perhaps?) all the while being proud of keeping her own long term marriage intact as she set about increasing her intellectual range.
Mom admired a lot about the unconventional choices of others, but she stuck to the conventional ones. Dad was conventional through and through. And they raised us to think for ourselves, with a high awareness of rules, mores and convention.
These ideas are much bigger than a single blog post, and this post has wandered in a direction that I didn’t originally intend. I keep coming back to these themes – value, self-definition, individuality – because they are rich and varied. I am fascinated by the conflict inherit between the draw of conventionality (and acceptance) and the determination of each person to be unique.
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