There is a universal feeling that we can all relate too. It’s a feeling that, in a strange way, connects our community, molds us, and decides the directions of our lives depending on how we respond to it. This is the feeling of pressure. The pressure to be better than the people around you, the pressures of marriage, of meeting your parent’s career expectations, are so real that we often times lose ourselves trying to reach a goal that was never ours.
Do we ever stop and imagine this pressure spreading us thin over the course of our lives until we one day ask ourselves, are we living the life we imagined we would? I see my generation flourishing, and yet still battling the expectations lingering overhead. It’s time we change how we respond to them. There are two words I’d like to share that have become my life mantra to counter these pressures. These words did not come to mind easily; rather, it was a journey realizing them.
When I was in my junior year of college, I felt stuck and unhappy in school. I was a biology major, and I was so sure that this was the right path for me because it was the only path I was taught to take. We don’t grow up given the opportunity to explore different fields, to discover where our passions lie. We grow up with limitations on what we can do the rest of our lives, and usually, it is anything in the math or science field. Of course, there is nothing wrong with going into those fields if that’s what you enjoy, but the problem we face is not being given the choice to explore different, more creative options.
College gave me a chance to reevaluate what I truly enjoyed learning. I switched my major to English, but not without mustering up some courage first. Because carving out my own path sounded daunting (but then again so did med school), and disappointing my parents was enough to make me want to continue ignoring my passions. This is a reality a lot of us face, especially when family members bring out the comparisons. You know, the “so and so’s daughter/son is a doctor.”
But here’s the thing – we are all on different, separate paths. Their path is not your path, and your path is not anyone else’s. And although our parents just want what’s best for us, it’s up to us to show them that doesn’t necessarily mean fitting into these roles, but instead, creating our own.
Fast forward to the topic currently at hand, because once you’re done with school, all of a sudden the interest in your career has faded (if you’re a girl) and a new one has formed: marriage. The stress that we get once we are in our mid-twenties to marry someone is heavy, and that is an understatement. It’s so heavy, that people begin to move forward in a relationship they are not fully invested in, or fully ready for, simply because it’s “the next step”. Imagine finding someone you get along with, but you don’t necessarily have strong feelings for, or you’re just happy being single (cue auntie gasp.)
Yet your parents like them, and you are in your twenties facing the pressures of settling down. So, you buckle down. You create a comfortable, content space in your life over the whims of others. But comfort zones are a dangerous place, and so is following a path that someone else has carved out for you.
There was a time I met a guy that checked everything off my parent’s list. He was tall (I’m a tall gal), in the medical field, and his family was from the same area as mine back in the motherland. However, the problem was I didn’t connect with him. There was no spark there. I asked myself, was this something I should invest in, that maybe the spark would come later? Deep down, I knew what the answer was. Deep down, we all do. But with the pressure we face, it’s not that easy to let go of things we know aren’t right for us.
That was one of many forks in the road. I thought back to college, when I had the courage to say no to something others would have wanted and focused on what made me happy. That same courage led me to not move forward in a relationship I knew wasn’t for me. That same courage helped me realize an important lesson on life, two words that should become your daily mantras: don’t settle.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s easier said than done. Because along with those pressures, we are trapped in a barrier of guilt. I came to America with my parents, so I was there to witness the hardships of moving to another country. And a lot of first or second-generations know these challenges all too well. The guilt we feel entangles us so that we feel we owe everything to our parents. And the truth is, we do. After everything they did to give us the life and opportunities we currently have, we owe it to them to make the best of it. But the best gift you could give your parents isn’t a life that you settled for. It’s your happiness, it’s living up to your fullest potential, and it’s pursuing your passion instead of putting only half of your heart into something, whether it be a career or a relationship.
It’s time to break away from societal pressures and ask yourself, do you want to move forward with a comfortable path society has carved out for you? Do you want that job you don’t like but comes with a high status? Do you want that relationship just so you can settle down? Are you willing to follow a path that included the space to focus on yourself, but an uncertainty of where it led?
In the words of writer Nikita Gill,
“Your ancestors did not survive everything that nearly ended them for you to shrink yourself to make someone else comfortable. This sacrifice is your warcry, by loud, be everything and make them proud.”
If it doesn’t give you a spark, if it doesn’t excite you or make you put a hundred percent of yourself into it, don’t pursue it. Don’t settle.
Shivani is an ESL teacher with a passion for reading, writing, traveling, and helping others through education. She’s a firm believer that with education comes empowerment, and this
has led her to her career teaching English to young kids around the globe. Shivani immigrated to the states with her parents at a young age, and remembers attending English classes with her mom. The wonderful teachers she was blessed with, plus great books, music, and writing, all helped her in her journey to be the vocal, creative person she is today. Her goal is to inspire others the same way, through teaching and writing. Fun fact: she’s also a huge “foodie” and thinks the best part of traveling is trying new, local foods (especially the hole in the wall places- don’t judge a book by its cover!)