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There are few things that have remained so consistent throughout my entire life than wishing everyone would just stop telling me what to do.
It’s the ride or die of sentiments, really. I know I wasn’t the only one who sat on the sidewalk after high school volleyball and blessed the day I wouldn’t have a curfew, homework, or the mandatory parent-designated “photo with Santa when you are 13” Christmas cards.
I wasn’t caught completely off guard to realize that after high school nobody ever really stops bossing you around, albeit it may come from different sources: bosses instead of teachers, payment schedules instead of coaches. But I also did everything within my power to remain as independent as possible: working remotely on my own schedule and eating ice cream for breakfast when it felt appropriate (usually Mondays and Fridays). I was a strong, sugar-infused, independent woman! But what I didn’t plan for, was just how much time I would allow internet lists to boss me around.
We’ve all seen them: “30 Things You Must Do Before you are 30.” “Make sure you have checked these items off your list before you settle down!” “Three Things to do before you have Kids.” I do understand the appeal in these headlines. Something masochistic suckers us in at age 32 to see what, exactly, we were supposed to be before we got here. But the messages of these so called “listicles” are rarely reasonable and overall confining. Unique journeys are discounted, and let’s face it, all of us are pretty damn unique.
So here it is: the five reasons the internet lists have to stop.
1. “You don’t even know me.”
My middle school adage rings true and comes in as number one. The internet lists are (fortunately) not catered to your specific situation in life: your marital status, financial status, job, family, health, and God forbid, the dreaded “P” word, your privilege. Not to mention the other, less controversial “P” word, your preference.
What the lists don’t account for is the intrinsically unique nature of all of us. Humans are so specialized in taste and circumstance that you can’t take an arbitrary indicator (such as age or life event) and trust it to provide viable life instruction. In fact, I would go as far to say that these lists on how to live your life are about as reliable as ordering the $3.99 shoes from Instagram: they may fit great, but more than likely, you will be squeezing yourself into something that was never really meant for you.
2. Jealousy or Inspiration?
The other tricky thing about the internet these days is the pictures we see and the articles we read are only of those who have taken the time to write it down and post it up. In reality, the smallest sampling of people that we access online feels representative of the majority of our world. Not everyone spends a summer backpacking alone and not everyone has quit their job, bought a camper van, and found a rustic and bearded man to trick it out for them so they could roam Canada together. A friend of mine repeatedly says she doesn’t follow people or read things online (Instagram, listicle, or otherwise) that make her feel envious. Criteria for determining if the account is worthwhile? If it is not making you more creative, more compassionate, or more aware—then it doesn’t even belong on your radar.
3. List curators are not success definers (and neither are Instagram models, and neither are your parents).
They are humans who lived one experience and decided to talk about it. That’s all. And whether success looks like making your own baby food for every one of your babies, having six-pack abs, or six-figure paychecks, or six weeks of vacation, then hell yeah. But knowing your own definition of success before you allow others to tell you their definition is crucial. Write it down. Stick it on your mirror. And when the list tells you to travel the year before you settle down, remember that your mirror says, “Buy my own house.” Or, “Marry my high school love.” Or “Spend more time with my family.” Or “Meet Cheryl Strayed.” No wrong answers, so long as they are honest.
4. This list is about more than lists.
Obviously. It’s a result of watching a frustrated bride who fell in love young and married young, because “he was (is) wonderful and they were ready.” But since she hadn’t reached the mystical milestone age of 25 that meant she wasn’t ready to tie the knot yet. It’s seeing friends meet someone special a month after a bad breakup, and turning them away because they “hadn’t been single long enough.” It’s the overwhelming sense of inadequacy because you didn’t eat organic enough, travel enough, put yourself out there enough—all based on the arbitrary rules we type up and paste online like some type of divine and/or Beyonce-inspired mandate.
And it’s madness. Because each person I have encountered, regardless of their situation is nothing short of honey and magic.
5. It’s your life. You decide the rules.
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