The best advice I've ever gotten from my friends and family is just to do what makes me happy. I know that is so ridiculously cliche, but honestly, it's the best thing you can do for yourself. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I happen to be one of those people who feels like a living, breathing conundrum. I know what makes me happy, but I also get unreasonably stressed about what I think I SHOULD be doing; what the "correct" steps are to get to my ultimate goal (like I even really know what that is yet...). Side note: is that the right use of a semi-colon? Rosi, help me out here. I love semi-colons, and I try to use them correctly, but it is somewhat difficult for my little brain. ANYWAY, conundrums. I get in this weird headspace whenever I'm going through a transition in my life, where a giant battle happens inside me between what really makes me happy and what I think I should be doing, OR what other people think I should be doing.
If you want to get sociological about it, as I did in my Soc 101 class at Oxy, the reason I get so worked up and anxious about doing what makes me happy is because I tend to pick the path that it feels like no one else is walking. Humans are hard-wired to be "happiest" (or at least feel most comfortable) when they are in line with whatever their culture, community, what have you, is doing. If you really want to get into it, there is a documentary that I have a very intense love for, called Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality which discuses the ideas of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker. Its main premise is that the driving force behind pretty much all human thought and action is a subconscious fear of death. I won't get too into it, but if you want to know more I sincerely recommend the movie. I know the filmmakers, and it's superbly well done. My point is, your belief system is validated by your culture, religion, location, friend group, whatever. When your belief system and actions are validated, you feel safe, invincible, because even when you're gone, those beliefs and values will persevere via your collective.
You can argue that is absolutely great, and many do. I definitely, definitely see the good aspects of this. Our communities give us collective conscience and produce amazing energy, thoughts and actions (i.e. the nerdfighter community, YouTube, Tumblr, etc), BUT there are things to be said for allowing yourself to feel comfortable outside of the collective. It is absolutely terrifying but if you can manage it, it can be extremely rewarding.
And that's what I mean about always trying to do what makes YOU happy. Going with what your culture expects can compromise entrepreneurship, creativity, and your own feeling of self-worth or self-esteem.
In that same vein, I have been dealing with this quite a bit on my own journey through my early twenties, my schooling, and trying to find work that makes me feel good and like I'm contributing something.
Since I left the college I started at straight out of high school, if I wasn't busy doing something I felt this immense weight and a constant distress underlying everything. The weird part was no one was really putting direct expectations on me. My parents are extremely supportive in everything I do and have always been the people to tell me that I need to do what makes me happy, and exploring and messing up is okay. I'm so grateful for that, which is why it felt weird that I was still so anxious about leaving school. When I was traveling I felt good because I value travel very highly, and I think the benefits of experiencing new cultures and places are irreplaceable, but anytime I was sitting still the anxiety washed over me.
Then I decided I wanted to be in LA, and I decided I wanted to pursue some sort of animal science of vet-tech degree. This was great -- for a while. Moving down to LA was an amazing decision, and I don't regret it for an instant, but when I couldn't get into ANY vet-tech classes at a community college down here, I felt so lost. I was in a new city, living close to the school I was supposed to go to, which is on the opposite side of the city from all my friends and my boyfriend, and I didn't have a job or any classes. Goodbye, self-esteem. After freaking out for a good month, I did a lot of self-exploration as well as researching schooling and work options that I thought I would enjoy. I finally realized that what was stressing me out the most was that I had picked this direction (animal stuff) way too quickly, and although I love working with animals, and would do it gladly, I felt like I was restricting myself so much. I had decided I just wanted to do animal things, and my bachelor degree wasn't worth it anymore, and all this stuff. It was at that point, I realized my best option was to just do all my general education credits at community college and eventually transfer to a University and just get a degree is something I like. The weight that this took off of my shoulders was pretty shocking. I realized that I had felt the need to decide my career path and major and life plan and all of that, not because that was making me happy but because I felt like I NEEDED to.
I had always assumed myself to be the type of person who needed a specific structure and a path outlined for me, but when I decided to let go of that and just let life happen and let school happen and figure it out as I'm going along, I was (and am) so much happier. It's scary not to be following the path that everyone expects, but it is making me a much more self-assured and creative person, and I couldn't be happier about it.
I don't know if I really have a clear conclusion here, and I'm sorry it's so long, but I think it's an exceptionally important subject to think about.
Have any of you ever had breakthroughs like this? Have there been times when you've felt really isolated because you decided to go a different direction that the people in your culture or community? Let me know, I'm curious about your stories :)