Let’s get real here: society has this way of shoving a checklist into our hands, ticking off boxes on how to live, love, and labor.
We’re fed this narrative that says you’ve got to have X amount in your bank account, a partner of Y caliber on your arm, and a life that looks good on a glossy screen. But guess what?
The ‘perfect’ timeline, the ‘right’ career—for many, these are not the golden tickets to a meaningful life.
Today, we dive into five “shoulds” many need to stop giving some much weight.
It’s time to stop measuring our worth with someone else’s ruler.
01) We should all climb the corporate ladder
You know the drill – by the time you’re thirty, if you’re not on the fast track to ‘Senior Something-or-Other’, eyebrows are raised.
Success is often served up as a dish best enjoyed in a boardroom with a side of sleep deprivation. But here’s a thought – what if success… isn’t that? What if your dream job isn’t a job at all?
Maybe climbing the corporate ladder is your jam, and that’s cool.
But if it’s not, that’s cool too. There’s more to life than titles and promotions.
Your worth isn’t measured by your job title or the size of your office.
It’s about finding what makes you spring out of bed in the morning – even if that means taking a path less traveled by your LinkedIn connections.
02) We should be busy (at least when we are young)
It can seem today that if you’re not juggling a dozen tasks, you’re not seen as productive or ambitious.
This ‘busyness badge of honor’ is worn with pride, but beneath it often lies stress, anxiety, and a sense of never being enough.
It’s a relentless pursuit of doing more, where every minute of our day is scheduled, and downtime is considered a luxury at best, a sin at worst.
Yet, this obsession with busyness skims over a critical aspect of life: the importance of simply being.
Constant motion blurs the lines of our lives, making it difficult to focus on what truly matters.
Being perpetually busy isn’t an indicator of success; it can be a barrier to it. It can prevent us from deep thinking, from truly engaging with our passions, and from nurturing relationships that require more than a hurried text message.
Instead of glamorizing the packed calendar, let’s aspire to balance. It’s essential to realize that worth isn’t measured by how much you can squeeze into your day but by the quality and intention behind the things you choose to focus on.
03) We should be making X amount
The numbers on your paycheck are often treated as a public scoreboard—society’s way of keeping track of who’s winning.
There’s an expectation that a higher income not only defines your success but also your worth. But this narrow focus misses the mark on what truly constitutes a rich life.
What’s often overlooked is the context of those numbers: the cost of living varies dramatically from place to place, and a salary that affords a lavish lifestyle in one city might barely cover the basics in another.
The key isn’t the figure you earn; it’s having enough to meet your needs and the wisdom to know what those needs genuinely are.
Money is a tool, not a goal.
It’s the means to create the life you want, not a scorecard. By focusing on the impact of your actions and your personal satisfaction over your income, you redefine success.
04) We should have the latest ‘stuff’
The latest phone, the flashiest car, the designer clothes — it’s like we’re in a never-ending competition for the most toys, as if the person with the most, wins. But when does it end?
When the garage doesn’t close because it’s overflowing? When the credit card finally bursts into flames?
Here’s a reality check: things don’t make the man.
The relentless acquisition is a game with no finish line — because there will always be something newer, shinier, and more ‘you must have this to be happy’ out there.
It’s a hollow victory to own all the latest gadgets and gizmos if they don’t genuinely improve your life or bring you joy.
The irony is, the more we own, the more our stuff ends up owning us. We work longer hours to pay for them, spend weekends maintaining them, and stress about protecting them.
Instead, consider the liberation of minimalism, or at least, thoughtful consumption. Focus on quality over quantity. Invest in experiences over objects. Cherish relationships over receipts.
Remember, the best things in life aren’t things. They’re memories made, laughter shared, and the peace of knowing you’re not defined by your possessions.
05) We should own a home (or aspire to)
Here comes the heavyweight of the American Dream: owning a piece of the Earth.
Society says that by a certain milestone age, you should be signing mortgage papers and choosing curtain patterns, because renting is supposedly pouring money down the drain.
But let’s press pause and think about this — is homeownership the ultimate barometer of stability and success? Not necessarily.
The truth is, the ‘renting versus buying’ debate isn’t as black-and-white as it’s made out to be. Homeownership is a massive commitment, not just financially but also in terms of time and freedom.
It ties you to a location, comes with a six-figure debt (hello, mortgage), and guess who gets to fix the boiler at 2 a.m.?
That’s right, you.
For some, the perks of owning a home — personalization, stability, investment — are worth it.
But for others, the flexibility of renting, the freedom from maintenance woes, and the liquidity of not having all your wealth tied up in real estate can be far more valuable.
So, if you’re not ready to commit to a 30-year relationship with a building, don’t stress.
Your living situation doesn’t define your maturity or success.
The bottom line
The societal expectations we’ve unpacked are just a few of the many narratives that can dictate our lives if we let them. They’re woven into the fabric of our culture, often so subtly that we don’t even notice we’re under their influence.
They aren’t inherently negative, but they become problematic only when they’re allowed to stress us out, to make us feel inadequate, or to dictate our choices without our conscious consent.
It’s crucial to remember that you are the author of your own life story.
As you navigate through your personal journey, focus on what makes you feel fulfilled, on what aligns with your values, and on what brings you joy.