Why do we Do as we’re Told?

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Throughout our lives, we are reinforced with the ideology that life has a predetermined beginning, middle, and end.

We begin life at school, gaining an education. A portion of us then go on to university to enhance those skills or learn new ones. We then enter the workforce, either after a gap year or maybe on an apprenticeship. A couple of years later, we’ll fall in love and meet “the one.” Then we’ll follow the same series of steps as everyone else: marriage, buying a house, and potentially having children.

Financial struggles may cause undue stress with our mortgage to pay off and the old student loan lingering over our heads. So we spend the next 30 years paying this off, struggling, and stressing about money. Eventually we will reach retirement, not know what to do with ourselves, and will eventually succumb to old age and death.

We all know that this is the general pattern in life, perhaps with a few adjustments. Maybe you didn’t go to university, maybe you’ll never buy a property, get married, or have children. Yet society still enforces the ideology that this is the right thing to do. That we should follow this pattern in life and go about “the daily grind.”

But why?

Why do we live our life waiting for it to end? We count down the days until our next holiday, until Christmas, or until the day we turn 50. But why?

Shouldn’t we be out there living our life, building a foundation for which we can grow? Shouldn’t we be trying to experience all life has to offer, to give back, to heal, to self-improve?

But instead, we complain about what we do not have, rather than appreciating everything and everyone we currently hold dear today. We only look back and realise how great we had it after it is over, rather than being there and living for the now.

This sense of unhappiness and never feeling fulfilled comes from what we are taught growing up.

We are taught that you need to study for years and years in order to work painstakingly hard for a career that you hate just so that you’ll have enough money to put dinner on the table for your potential partner and children in the future. You need to work hard now, to ensure happiness in 10, 20, or maybe even 50 years from now.

But why?

Why aren’t we taught to be “our best selves” now, or to do what makes us happy?

That’s what’s important in life: happiness.

We become so lost in what is expected of us and worrying about all the things we don’t have. We forget other people have struggles far greater and unjustified than ours that puts us to shame. But we still look around and envy others; we see people who are so well put together that nothing could ever be wrong in their life. Social media enhances this ideology. Only the best side of ourself is ever displayed. Perhaps this makes us feel better about ourselves, or perhaps it is a defense mechanism to fool our brain into thinking that we’re happy.

Life at the end of the day is what you make of it and how you react to the stimuli around you. I examine the behaviour of those around me on a regular basis, trying to put myself in their shoes to understand their emotional responses, and to appreciate why everyone responds to the same situation in a different manner.

More often than not, I feel that those around me are content. In fact, a huge percentage of people appear satisfied with the path set out for us by society. They don’t mind waking up at 7:00 a.m. every day, spending the next 50 years of their life working for someone else while counting down the days till their next holiday—where they spend a year of hard-earned savings in one week.

I envy these people who are happy and complete within the norms and values society believes we should follow.

It’s not as simple as that for me. I have a burning desire to grow and to learn new things. I am compelled to step outside of my comfort zone, to master new skills, and to understand life and people.

I want everything. I need everything. Without reaching my goals and dreams, I feel empty. I feel like I can’t bear to waste another day in a life that doesn’t make sense. Society’s norms and values don’t make sense to me. The old “hunter and gatherer” lifestyle sits much better. It’s simpler, but it make sense.

They lived simply; they planted food to prepare for the future, and they built shelters to protect themselves. But there didn’t seem to be as much greed or jealousy. A healthy community works together to live and enjoy life, to survive and to be happy. There’s no self-hate, no comparing to the best, no unjustifiable misery. They collected just enough food and water to meet their needs. There was far less waste. This makes sense. Sitting behind a computer for hours on end, with barely any exercise, stressing about a deadline, does not make sense.

I want to be a storyteller. I want to understand the depths of human interaction. To examine why people respond in certain ways, what makes up the human mind, and what drives an emotional reaction. I feel compelled to see from behind another’s eyes. But society doesn’t support this, society doesn’t understand the people who want to live outside the box. I wish there was no box; I don’t want anything to do with it.

“Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” ~ Helen Keller

I want that adventure. I want to take the risk that throws everything I’ve been taught about appropriate behaviour out the window. I strongly believe that if you don’t take a risk, you’ll never get the reward. Only once you step off the edge of a cliff will you know what it’s like to fall off the side.

I once had a conversation with my sister about bravery. In her opinion, doing a skydive or a bungee jump was the ultimate sign of bravery. It demonstrates that you’re not scared of taking a risk. I was confused by this for the longest time. I have done both a bungee jump and a skydive, yet I don’t feel any braver or more challenged than I did before.

I later realised that these acts were not bravery. Bravery is not accomplishing an activity you know reasonably well will do you no harm. Bravery is going into the unknown, against all odds, and accomplishing something you never thought possible. That the people around you never thought possible. Bravery is taking the first step into realising that you want more, and that you need more. That you’re willing to risk everything for a life you desire, a life and future you dream about.

Nobody is going to take that first step but yourself. If you want something, you have to reach out and grab it, scream from the top of your lungs. Trust that you’ll make the best decisions possible with the evidence laid out in front of you.

“Worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.” ~ Baz Luhrmann

So why do we do as we’re told? Why do we listen to society’s norms and values?

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Author: Amy Elliott
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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Amy Elliott

Amy Elliott is an actor, a traveler, and a dancer. She’s searching for the meaning of life, for an understanding of people, and her Hogwarts letter. She lives by the motto: “Do something everyday that scares you.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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