Challenging Nagging Questions as You Design Your Life­­­ Can’t be Avoided

No matter who you are, young or old, there are always times when someone poses a nagging question about your next step or decision in life. It is a situation that is almost hard to avoid.

No matter who you are, young or old, there are always times when someone poses a nagging question about your next step or decision in life. It is a situation that is almost hard to avoid.
Well, this is the year to start designing your life and to not worry about others’ expectations.
If you are a student of psychology, you may be familiar with Erik Erickson’s psychosocial stages, where he outlines the eight phases of life, including specific challenges and decisions one faces during those time periods.
He may not have thought of the questions that are often posed by family members, neighbors and friends about the specific direction of your life’s path. It can be trying to live up to the expectations of society, which may conflict with your personal timeline and desires.
One of the first nagging questions we often experience happens right at the end of high school. Erickson felt that young adults during the ages of 18-35 faced certain key life decisions.
One decision clearly occurs when one is finishing high school and then needs to decide their next step in life. Authors of a study by New York University wrote in 2015, “we are concerned that students in these selective, high-pressure high schools can get burned out before they reach college.”
So when Aunt Molly asks your high school student where she is going to college or what she is selecting as a major, try to remind her that it is OK to take time to start college, get settled and enjoy the final days of high school. Of course, this advice is not easy for all parents to follow.
The next nagging question posed from, let’s say, Uncle Frank, which Erickson also included in his model, was the decision about when to start a family. When we start dating, we are automatically asked the dreaded question about our thoughts on marriage. After we are married, we are asked immediately when we are going to have children.
This barrage of questions doesn’t end throughout life and may prevent us from enjoying the moment. Conversely, if we are not in a relationship, there may be concerns and whispers about possible issues in our lives. These are deeply personal decisions, and there is never a one-size-fits-all answer.
Remember to live the life that you want to live, and if that includes waiting to start a family or happily staying unmarried to your significant other, that’s OK, as long as it’s right for you.
Even as we reach middle age, we are faced with questions about our careers and the paths of our families. When our children leave home, or if we don’t have children, we are labeled as empty nesters. Even parents who have children in college or older teenagers can be described as empty nesters and are asked what they do with their free time.
With all due respect to Erickson, Aunt Molly, Uncle Frank and all the other well-wishers with prescriptions for your life, it is time to stand up and take charge of designing your life this year by challenging the expected norms.
Decide during each stage of life what the right step is for you. When Aunt Molly asks you about your son’s college of choice, tell her that research proves that gap years are beneficial.
Don’t feel pressured to commit to a relationship. There is not a right age to get married, move in with a partner or settle down. Challenging the status quo is not easy, but in the long run it may reduce anxiety and stress.
Don’t make decisions just because they are expected of you. Too many people become financially strapped with mortgages, vacation homes, tuitions for exclusive preschools, colleges, preparatory schools, etc., because they feel that they need to take the next expected step in life. It is not easy to slow down or to not follow your neighbors’ decisions.
Try to define your life by what you believe in, not by the dreaded question, “What do you do?” You don’t need to answer the question about, “What do you do with your free time now that your child is in school or that you have retired?” Remember it is your life.
Don’t define yourself as an empty nester. You life is based on your designed purpose, not someone else’s or society’s.
It can be hard not to follow society’s expectations, but sometimes those are not the right individual paths to take. It is more important in designing your life to take time to examine what you want and what time frame works best for you.
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a psychologist at Abramson Center.


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