You make good money. No one comes right out and tells you that you need to make a good living, or provides a direct correlation between that and the happiness you’ll experience, but the implication is always there. You’ll be working a job which, regardless of how much you enjoy it, provides you with the kind of lifestyle that everyone thinks you should be having. You majored in one of a very limited selection of “good” things in college and, because you accrued little debt, were able to do the requisite unpaid internships and assistant positions to land a good job. You have the kind of job which family members are proud to brag about at dinner parties, and which your friends all express vague jealousy over.
You live in a good area of town, but not the most expensive one. You might not be in love with it, but it’s the city that allows you to work the job which funds everything else. It’s the kind of neighborhood that offers a lot of organic options for picky eaters and has several block parties or street fairs throughout the year. Your apartment is relatively small but well-kept and includes the appropriate comforts for any visitor who should happen to drop by. People are always happy to come to your place, and will pepper you with questions over how you found it and how much you pay for it — they’re always pleasantly surprised at the break-down of numbers.
You’ve been dating someone long-term. You’re not sure how much you actually love them, but your partner is the kind of person who meets your parents with eager nervousness and impresses them within the first 10 minutes. They are well-spoken, smart, good-looking, and interested in settling down with you. You tell people that you are looking forward to marrying them in a modest ceremony with about 50 of your closest friends and family, and expect to find a house soon after in which to start your family. You say that few things make you more comforted and warm than the thought of lifelong monogamy, and everyone around you is in perfect agreement with the kind of person you’re choosing to do it with. In truth, you’re not sure how monogamy is even possible over the course of 50 or more years.
Each decision in your life has been made almost by consensus, something that the group was so certain was good for you that you began to see it that way, too. You have one of the rare lives that walks the tightrope of fun-loving and hard-working, free from the criticisms of those around you who assume they could be doing things better than you have managed. You are neither chastised for not going out enough, nor nitpicked for having a job so undemanding as to allow you an overfull social calendar. No one is telling you that you need to find a real career, because in their mind, you already have one.
Your path has been one that people can point to when asking their children why they haven’t strived for more in their lives. You have avoided the pitfalls of useless studies or crushing debts — pitfalls that you were encouraged to make when figuring things out at the end of high school — and are praised for it unequivocally now. You were one of the “smart” ones who figured out that all of the nonsense about following your dreams and signing over a check to take a risk on something you want to do was a one-way ticket into being 25 with 14 dollars in your checking account. You have beaten the system, and have something to be proud of. Everyone pats you on the back. Everyone thinks you did a good job.
And then you realize that you are not any of these things. You don’t have that mysterious job that everyone wants you to have. You’re in debt, a lot of it. You are not sure where you’re going to be, or what you want out of life exactly, or how much other people will be involved in those decisions. But you know that you have not chosen anything because you didn’t want to, that you’re not pretending to enjoy a career or a relationship or a city because other people tell you that you’re a good person for doing so. Things are imperfect, but they are yours. And though you know exactly what to do to be that person everyone constantly compares you against without meaning to, you have no interest in being them. Better to leave that perfection to someone else who actually wants it.