Whose standards are you living up to? How do you define the goals and standards that you hold for yourself? Are you able to set your own standards, or do you go with what seems popular or acceptable? Are you comfortable with who you are as a person? Are you satisfied with the way things are going in your life?
Our parents, relatives, media images, and friends all have a major influence on how we define ourselves and who we are. Even the most independent individual is at the mercy of society’s image of them, sometimes. The way that we accept, interpret, and implement these standards and expectations for our lives is important. We do not have to become who everyone else wants us to be, and we shouldn’t.
Growing up, I remember the pressure to get good grades. Even bringing home a “B” was not acceptable, as my father saw me as only an “A” student. My mother was much more lenient, and as long as I was doing my best in any particular subject, she was happy with the results and proud of me. My father, even with the best intentions, pushed me to always do better, even when I thought I gave my best. As I grew older, he also pushed for me to attend law school, and for a while I thought that I did want to become a lawyer, but as the process became evident, I realized it wasn’t for me, and to this day he still jokes about me going to school to be a lawyer.
There are many instances in-between my grade school and college years when my father pushed me in different directions. When I became a teen mother, this was devastating for him, as it would be for most parents. Sixteen and pregnant is not the headline we choose for our children. So, I had to convince him that I would finish high school and attend college, despite the challenges of being a new and young parent. It was hard, because he already defined me by his standards and the odds were against me. But I created my own standards and expectations for myself to succeed. And I did, well beyond the success that many people thought was possible.
I share this not to make this post all about me. I say it because I know that many of you reading this can relate. As we walk through life, we are faced with so many different types of pressures to conform to the standards of others and those of this world. The success that our families desire for us are only one piece of it, as we are faced with social standards such as wealth, beauty, education, success, and health. Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
Standards of wealth and success are seen everywhere. Society has defined the perfect picture of being rich, famous, and happy. We see reality tv shows, celebrities with their big houses and fancy cars, and read about rich people who appear to have everything they want. And then we feel small, we feel like our accomplishments mean nothing, and even worse, we start to compare our lives to the rich and start to chase after things we cannot afford or should even pursue. It becomes unhealthy and zaps our self-esteem and purpose for living. A vicious cycle.
The standards of beauty that our society projects are so limiting and often unattainable. We now live in a world where plastic surgery is the norm. People everywhere are simply adding, subtracting, and multiplying body parts so that they can meet the social standards around them. Of course, some people do this for their own purposes too, but the majority are often on a mission to appear more youthful, have a coke bottle body type, fuller lips, or a flatter stomach. The images we see in the media have greatly contributed to this standard, and many of us have internalized it, and taken it on as the requirement. These rigid standards of beauty have removed the acceptance of who we are and what we naturally look like.
Standards for education are also filled with pressure. Days have passed where careers were found and maintained directly out of high school. College or post secondary options are necessary to obtain most entry-level positions now. This places a lot of pressure on high school students to quickly select a degree or vocational program and go to college. This pressure trickles over into the cost of receiving an eduction as well, as tuition rates are climbing each year, resulting in huge amounts of student debt. This pressure also creates an invisible standard of social denial for high school students who (for whatever reason) do not attend college. They are marginalized out of career opportunities and are scolded for not receiving a degree.
Then we have the standard of health. Media tends to send the message that if you are not within specific measurements such as age, height, weight, and clothing size, that you are unhealthy and socially unacceptable. This goes along with beauty standards too. Yes, it is absolutely critical to be physically healthy, but being a size two versus a size ten does not necessarily guarantee a clean bill of health, as society projects to us in images and media. These are standards that must be revisited so that people can determine the best state of health for their body type, genetic makeup, race, gender, and lifestyle.
With all of these standards surrounding us, it can be difficult to define our own standards. It might feel impossible to ever do anything right, as there are always so many conflicting opinions. Conforming to the standards around us might seem like the only option, and the best one to avoid conflict. But this will not lead to the peace we need to maintain and live our life the way we want to. If we are always living up to someone else’s standards for us, are we ever truly learning about who we are and what we want in our life? Probably not.
It is time to take a serious look at our life and the direction we are going. While it is fine to blend some standards together, our standards for ourselves must prevail. You may value the input from loved ones and friends, or even consider advice from an article or media source, but still continue to construct your own standards. And if you turn out to be different from the rest, this is fine too. Being unique is a major blessing in life! We should not want to be like everyone else or simply follow suit when it comes to living our life. Everyone is different for a reason.
Live your life with purpose and intent, designed by you!