I recently saw this question in a subreddit I am a part of: “ how do I tell apart what I actually want from what society expects me to want?” Before I even read the other comments I started pondering what the Redditor asked. Essentially she was asking about how to know what YOU want in life. I realized that it is indeed a very deep question and it dawned on me: many people, especially young women actually do struggle with this.
In fact, there was a time when I didn’t know the personal answer to that question. It is so easy to get swept away in everything that society expects of us that some of us lose ourselves in the process and some of us never find ourselves.
So in this article, I want to share my personal answer to the question “how to know what you want from life” and shed a little insight on how I was able to decipher what I want from what society expects me to want. I’ll share the angles I considered and I hope that they are helpful for you too.
Before I start rambling too much, let’s jump right in. Here’s how to figure out what you want from life.
First, understand that nothing is inherently wrong with wanting what society expects you to want
We are social creatures after all so it’s only natural. It has become the trend these days for people to “reject” society. However, I believe that those people are actually kidding themselves and are actually more detrimental to society as a whole if you ask me.
Society exists because humans exist. Humans are social creatures and as we evolved into civilized creatures, we learned that in order for our species to survive, we had to learn to coexist. That naturally meant certain norms became commonplace. We naturally fell into and started taking on roles more suited to our strengths. We naturally started having certain expectations of our fellow species members so it goes without saying that the reverse is true.
These expectations keep changing and evolving as society continues to grow and evolve. What was expected in the 16 and 1700s is completely different from what is expected today.
I want to point out that society is not one person or organization sitting somewhere controlling everyone else’s lives. When people talk about “society” they tend to make it sound like society is sitting somewhere attaching puppet strings to all of us so it/he/she/them can control the rest of us.
Society is all of us. We all have expectations of each other because it’s how we have been able to survive as a species. Think about society as the body. When a cell mutates, the body naturally starts to reject it because this mutation could threaten the body’s existence. If the mutated cell is strong enough and not actually dangerous, it survives, multiplies, and eventually becomes a genetic code that gets passed on to your offspring.
“Society” – which includes you – rejects “foreign” because it (we) subconsciously believe foreign threatens its (our) existence. When this “foreign” thing sticks around long enough to become a “norm” it eventually gets accepted as part of society and we start wanting it because we want to be accepted as part of society.
So your wants and society’s wants will overlap and nothing is wrong with that. Even if it is rejected by one section of society, you can be sure that it is accepted by another section of society. Except if someone actually enjoys hurting other people. Society will never accept that, thankfully, because that threatens our existence as a species. But I digress. Let’s get back to how you can decipher your wants vs society’s.
How to know what YOU want in life?
There are two areas that I chose to focus on and I will expound below. But what I started to do was focus heavily on self-reflection and I stopped comparing myself to others in a toxic and unhealthy way.
This is the most important thing we can do as women. If more people spent time actually self-reflecting honestly, I believe that we would be happier people. Self-reflection is not meant to tear a person down. Instead, it is meant to build you up by allowing you to identify areas of success and areas for improvement.
In order to know if the things you want are actually your desires, you have to self-reflect. Look within yourself to see if you are fulfilling your own desires or someone else’s. Even if your desires can be considered shallow or selfish, you have to be able to identify what you actually want.
Self-reflection questions to ask yourself:
- Is this desire serving or destroying me?
- Does this protect or drain my mental and emotional energy?
- What kind of person am I?
- Am I showing up as my ideal self?
- What is my ideal self like?
- Will this thing I want make me happier?
- Will this thing destroy me in the long run?
- Am I doing it to fit in?
- Do I want it or do my family and friends want me to want it?
- Do I really want it or is it just popular on social media?
- The most important one: What do I actually want?
- Who do I want to be?
- Am I being my best self?
- What do I need to do to get what I want?
- What do I need to do to become who I want to be?
This Youtuber shares his thoughts on the topic and makes some good points. You can listen to his opinion if you are interested. If not, continue reading.
Please remember though that there will be a lot of things that you are actually supposed to do if you want to make yourself a better person but you won’t necessarily feel like doing them. But if you are committed to personal growth and self-improvement – and if you reflect honestly on these questions – the answer will become clear and you’ll be able to know if it is something you actually want or if you only want it because it’s socially expected of you.
Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting what society expects you to want. But it’s good to know if these wants are actually also your own and this self reflection exercise will help you to decipher that.
Stop comparing yourself
Again, I’ll lead with this: nothing is inherently wrong with the act of comparing yourself to others. It is a natural thing that we all do. We measure ourselves up to others because that’s how we know to identify progress. We look at others and what they are doing and then look at ourselves to see if we are also accomplishing things.
Self-comparison is not only when we look at young entrepreneurs and celebrities – or even family and friends – bossing up and accomplishing goals though.
In fact, what if I told you that you also compare yourselves to others doing worse than you? Worse than you as in there are worse (bad) human beings or even in less fortunate situations. Self-comparison is a way of identifying with or disassociating ourselves from others.
Examples of self-comparative thoughts:
- I wish I could do that
- Why can’t I do that?
- Why can’t I have that?
- Oh my God, she’s so much better than me.
- Ugh! I would never do that?
- I am so much better than she is.
- If that were me I would(n’t)___
- She’s so brave. I wish I was that brave.
As you can see we compare ourselves to positives and negatives all the time. While nothing is inherently “wrong” with that and it does not make you less of a person if you compare yourself to others from time to time, it is still something to keep in check and maintain a healthy balance with. Self-comparison is a problem when it becomes toxic.
It becomes a problem when
- It takes away from your ability to focus on your own goals
- It prevents you from celebrating your accomplishments
- It becomes an obsession
- It begins to focus on measuring up to someone else’s expectation
- It causes you to copy others religiously
- You stop reflecting on yourself to see if you are doing something for yourself
- You start doing things to be seen the same way someone else is seen
- It starts affecting your mental health
- It stops you from showing up as the best version of yourself
- It stops you from working on yourself
If you are constantly comparing yourself to someone else – in a toxic way – you’ll subconsciously start mirroring that person’s actions. You’ll find yourself wanting something only because that person has it. Not necessarily because it will benefit you as a person, but because it will make you like the person you’re trying to copy. The person you’re comparing yourself to.
When I was younger, I had such low self-esteem and I was so desperate to fit in that I did what I saw others doing in an effort to be accepted. Even things I didn’t really want to do. I even dated a guy who was old enough to be my father once! Not because I wanted to date older men – I prefer guys closer to my age – but because it was the norm for where I’m from.
I was expected to date older because of the misconception that all guys my age are f*ckboys and they are only out for a good time. Older men were considered to be more mature. The belief was that older men can better provide for you. Now while there might be some truth to that depend on where you are, it’s not a hard-fast rule. There are exceptions.
I don’t share this example to bash women who date older. I fully respect those who do. If you read my other content, you’ll know that I’m all about empowering women to make choices they feel empowered by.
I share the example to make the following point: what was expected of me, at that time, was that I should want to be taken care of. In reality, what I wanted was to be able to take care of myself. Then my circle changed and what was expected of me was now that I shouldn’t need a man and I should put up my middle fingers to chivalry. In reality, what I want is chivalry and to be treated with respect.
With each change in my circle, I became a part of a different sect in society and the expectations of me changed with each sect. It was then that I realized that I had to decide what I wanted for myself. Regardless of how it looks to others and regardless of what others expect me to want. Once I’ve decided what I want for myself, only then will I be living a life that is true and honest to myself.
I do hope you found these tips useful. Share your thoughts and comments in the comment section. Get social with me on Instagram and Facebook. You can also join my Facebook community for women, and remember to share this article with other women who need this message as well. We have to empower each other.
Empowered women, empower other women. ‘Til next time…
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As women get older, we get bombarded with questions from our family and other people about our love life. In some ways, I can kinda understand because our biological clock is ticking but I don’t want to date or get married for the sake of fitting in or being normal. But the more people ask me about it, I feel like it pushes me away even more because I hate that we are expected to follow the ‘norm’
Well said. I try to evaluate my wants ever so often so that even if what I do is “the norm” it is still something that I truly desire. I will never do something just for the sake of fitting in. I won’t intentionally make other people’s lives more difficult but I will also do what truly makes me happy
Such a great post. You explained all aspects of comparison and why it is bad for anyone. Thanks for sharing😊
Thanks for reading. I’m glad you liked the post. comparing yourself to others can definitely be a problem if not kept in check
You’re right this was such an interesting question! I really love your #2 point about stop comparing yourself to others. It’s hard to do in our society but it’s a great first step to figuring out your own values, and not what someone else values by flashing it on their social.
You ARE your own best self!
Exactly! This is exactly what I believe. No one can be YOUR best self but you
Such a thorough and detailed article, Lis! So much value! Thank you for taking the time to write and share so much information!
Thank you for reading. I’m glad you liked it 🙂