5 Lies We’ve Been Told All Our Lives

Ever since we were old enough to comprehend language, we’ve been dealing with a fair amount of obfuscation about the realities of life. “Better to tell the children a nice fairy tale now,” the grown-ups thought, “and let them be horrified by the gravity of the situation when they’re older.” Here, some of the more consistent untruths we’ve been fed all our lives.

1. “You can be anything you want to be.”

We all had those assignments in which we had to draw a picture and write a few broken sentences about the careers we were going to pursue. Usually somewhere around the age of seven, we all got hard to work scribbling about our dreams to become a ballerina, an astronaut, or — if you were me — a mermaid princess. Now, there’s nothing wrong with allowing us to dream big, but it would have been nice if they could at least have tempered it with the truth: “You can be anything you want to be, but you won’t.” It wasn’t until the dance majors made it through school that they discovered that there are about 30 jobs for ballerinas in the whole country, and people rip each others’ tracheas out to get them. And don’t even get me started on the fact that astronaut, the future employment of 87 percent of 8-year-old boys, no longer exists. Those suckers, suffering through aerospace engineering degrees, only to find out that a desk job at NASA is the highest possible honor that could await them. Womp, womp. I think, from now on, it’s best if we just say, “You can be any of these three things you want,” and then the kids have to choose between criminally underpaid public school teacher, security guard at a mid-size mall, or waitress at a restaurant that makes you wear suspenders.

2. “You’re going to grow up and find your very own Prince Charming to marry.”

Now, I acknowledge that this lie was more heavily directed towards the XX chromosomes in the room, but that doesn’t mean that everyone from our parents to our favorite Disney movies weren’t egging us on to walk down the aisle at the ripe old age of 21-ish. You see, we were pretty much painted the picture that at some point shortly after high school, we would walk down the street and literally bump into the person who would complete us for the rest of our 60+ years on this planet, and we would ride off into the sunset on our wedding night, never to encounter another problem again. Yeah. Then we actually make it to our twenties, and realize that the ones who look like Prince Charming are likely to text you grainy photos of their penis, and the ones who act like Prince Charming will show up to your house on a first date with a bouquet of red roses (shudder). Suffice it to say, the idea of hearing wedding bells with some flawless guy we met when we were 18 seems highly unlikely, and besides, think of how much tedious OKCupid messaging we would miss out on if it were true!

3. “College is the iron-clad guarantee of a f-cking awesome job!!!!!!1”

While college is, by all means, a great institution with so many possibilities for both abstract learning and specialized training, I think that the adults in our lives would have done well to maybe put a few asterisks on all of that college-related screaming. Perhaps the advice to hedge our bets a little and not encourage Bradley McBroDude to take out a 40,000-a-year loan to major in communications at the second-lowest-ranked school in Florida just so he can have some solid plans on graduation day would have been smart, as now we’re essentially a generation who has bought mortgage-level debt with no actual house to live in, and often no jobs to support it. Obviously, instead of banners plastered all over your high school with asinine sayings like, “College is knowledge,” the more tempered statement of, “College is a great tool, and can help you find a lot of different jobs. It is also required for many jobs, and depending on the profession, you may need to put in many more than just four years of study. It is, however, a pretty big investment — so if you’re taking out a lot of loans, make sure that you try and think critically about the viable job opportunities that you’ll have upon graduation, and tailor your studies accordingly. Try and get the most employable skill out of your time, and minimize debt as much as possible,” would have been a better choice. I guess we’d need bigger banners, though.

4. “You are beautiful and unique and special, there is no one like you.”

Okay, okay, this one is debatable. I mean, yeah, on a very literal level, there is no one exactly like us. But let’s not pretend that there aren’t about a million girls from your high school that got married at 22 and now just post status updates about watching The Biggest Loser with their hubbies. Yes, I’m a horrible person, but we all fall into stereotypes. For every me, there are about 13095823085230985 acerbic girls on the internet writing snarky criticisms of everything they’ve ever laid their eyes on for more than two seconds. In any case, everyone being “unique and special” is just a more pleasant way of saying that no one is. And beyond that, we’ve all seen the kids who held, white-knuckled, onto the concept that they were the most special little snowflake in the blizzard, also known as “the most insufferable dude at the house party.” It’s likely that, before the night is over, he’ll play an original song on the guitar and tell a long-winded story about the time he hitchhiked in Tibet. Oh, and as far as us all being beautiful, it would be nice if they could have added, “Depending on your definition of ‘beautiful.’ As the media will soon drill into your head, beautiful has the slimmest margin of error in existence, and let’s not kid ourselves, you don’t fit into it. You’re ‘okay,’ and consider yourself lucky for being it. Have fun at job interviews, uggo!”

5. “Even if you lose, you still get a participation trophy.”

Did anything destroy us more acutely as a generation than the willy-nilly distribution of participation trophies and ribbons? I mean, really, the idea that we’re all competing for something — that, for once, we’d like to actually earn something by being objectively the best — and then, f-ck that, everyone gets a shiny new trophy! God forbid we hurt a feeling or two, better we just completely annihilate the concept of competition altogether and then hold hands and sing about how different and special everyone is in their own way. Little did we know that the concept of “consolation prizes” don’t really exist in real life, least of all when we could actually use them. It’s not as though you go through a cut-throat hiring process and lose the job to someone more qualified, only to have the HR director pull you into her office and say, “Well, you tried so hard, and we don’t want you to go home empty-handed, so here’s a slightly less lucrative salary we’re going to pay you to stay at home and do whatever you want. We wouldn’t want you to feel like a loser.” I mean, really, if they actually existed in real life, participation trophies would be the greatest thing in the world. But they don’t, and they would rot society from the inside out if they did, so we should really just start kicking sand in children’s faces when they lose at soccer matches and scream, “How does it feel?!?! Yeah?? At least you still have an insurance plan!” Better to just start ’em young, I say. TC mark

image – John Peter

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • Verbro

    I WANTED TO BE A MERMAID TOO! Glad to hear I wasn’t alone.

    • http://kisty.net/ Kisty

      Same here. :)

  • Andrew Rowland

    #4, since everyone is unique, no one can truly be different.

  • Taylor

    “Well, you tried so hard, and we don’t want you to go home empty-handed, so here’s a slightly less lucrative salary we’re going to pay you to stay at home and do whatever you want.”
    Isn’t that exactly what paying people unemployment insurance for 2 years is? 

    • http://robvincent.net Rob T Firefly

       Unemployment insurance is more of a “we don’t quite want you to immediately starve and lose your house when you could be out job-hunting, so here’s a few bones to slightly slow your descent into that hole; please enjoy all those noodles without sauce” style of thing.

    • http://raymondthimmes.com/ Raymond Thimmes

      that’s assuming you have a job in the first place, which many college grads do not.

  • Ginny

    The main problem with lie #2 is the idea that somewhere there is a “person who would complete us.” No one can ever “complete” you – only compliment you and challenge you. And a healthy relationship has to do both.

  • Eliot Rose

    I’m going to start referring to people as “uggo.”  That’s FANTASTIC.  :o)

  • brokescience

    My parents didn’t go to college, and I just graduated a week ago. They have a hard time understanding the concept that these days college =/= job. When I talk to my mom she still can’t quite grasp why I’m not already making bank with my recently acquired BS in a “hard” science.

    • http://raymondthimmes.com/ Raymond Thimmes

      “hard” science.


      My BFA made me mature. Sorry.

      • Cd

        I think the transition from 18-22 made you mature. BFA. lol.

    • guest

       You are much more likely to find a job with a BS, it’s just going to take time.

  • Eebs Berenstein

    Well written and funny but I have an issue with the simplification and generalization.

    As children, we all need direction. The problem is not being told that we can be anything we want to be; The problem stems from denying us the exploration and the pursuit of fields that truly stimulate the best in us. Yes – we are told we can be anything – and shortly afterwards, pushed into areas that older generations deem economically sound, fields of status – sciences, mathematics, linguistics, politics. This occurs from a very young age. Of course that leads to so many of us pursuing careers in which we are bound to not necessarily fail, but not necessarily thrive in since they are not areas that truly drive us as passionate people. Being told that our true interests are silly or hobbies or time-wasters does a job to our lifelong morale. We choose jobs, careers, lives that don’t drive us and then yes… all these statements manifest themselves as lies.

    What if we were told we could be anything and then left free, without judgement, to explore the areas we truly love? (Read: The Element by Ken Robinson). What if our parents and elementary schools placed more importance on different kinds of intelligence (body, sound, sight, touch). How many of us would dream of being artists, dancers, musicians, dog whisperers, tree planeters, motivational speakers, world travelers, fort builders,…

    I believe, without societal pressures, in encouraging environments – these lies are not lies – they should just come with disclaimers:
     1. When you pursue what you are truly passionate about,“You can be anything you want to be.”
    2. (I’m simplifying but I believe at the heart of it, positive attracts positive) If you know yourself and love your life you are more likely , “… to grow up and find your very own Prince Charming to marry.”

    3. If you study something you’re actually interested in and fully commit to your development in the field, “College is the iron-clad guarantee of a f-cking awesome job!!!!!!1″
    4. If you know yourself and love what you are doing, you will be more prone to positive sentiment and self-actualizing thoughts and personal success:
    “You are beautiful and unique and special, there is no one like you.”
    5. When pursuing something you care about deeply, victory is not the end goal. Simply being a part of it is gratifying.
    “Even if you lose, you still get a participation trophy.”

    • guest

       Hey, I agree with all of this but some of us are actually passionate about science, math, politics, and maybe economics. But for sure science, because science rules.

    • Katherine

      Sciences, mathematics and linguistics are hardly “economically sound” if you’re pursuing research. Or if you’re pursuing much of anything really; all fields are essentially pyramid schemes. We all imagine that, with the right qualifications, we could all have that high-paying job, but (surprise!) there are a limited number of those jobs available. To give you an example that I’m personally familiar with: I could count the number of current openings for biologists at research institutions on two hands (one hand if we’re just talking the United States), and there are thousands of (very passionate) people with Ph.D.’s in relevant fields out there vying for them. And I can tell you right now that the successful candidates will not be chosen based on how “passionate” they are about science. 

    • Jordan

       I agree entirely Eebs. Maybe I’m not in the generation, or particular genre of people who this stuff was “promised” to, but what part of any of these promises implied that it wasn’t going to take work?  And what part of these promises said to not grow the fuck up and translate this stuff were told when you were 6(?) and apply it to the real world.  Most of it still applies.

      The one I can at least somewhat agree with is the trophies thing, which I’ve never seen personally.  But it’s the same thing that any decent parent does for their kid in case of a loss, “you did a good job, you tried” except schools/clubs are doing it in place of a lot of parents who wont.

  • http://raymondthimmes.com/ Raymond Thimmes

    I think I’ve just grown so apathetic with my ‘dreams’ that the idea that once I was owed something or promised something and it wasn’t met doesn’t bother me anymore.

    I have a job. It’s decent. I’m not living where I want to, but I have good friends here. Sure, I wanted to be a filmaker when I was young and no I’ll never do it but it’s okay? Maybe?

    I have however, completely given up (for the time being) on finding my princess who wants to be swept away like Walt promised.

    • Disha

       Whoa at the last part. Whoa. In a good way, though :) Good luck.

  • guest

    So true. All of these.

  • Jamie

    How about… how easy it is to become pregnant?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      Don’t have sex because you will become pregnant and die. 

  • Amanda

    FFPS (Fun Fair Positive Soccer) is the disastrous, all the while emblematic representation of our generatiom

  • guest

    This comes off as angry to me. Certainly, we don’t get everything we want but we should still pursue a life of passion and what makes us happy.

  • Kittyluv310

     Recently my nephew showed me a trophy he got from soccer. “Did you win it?” I asked. He seemed utterly puzzled.
    The main problem with never losing is that you have no idea what “win” feels like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    Nobody ever told me I was unique and special.    I never wanted to be unique and special, either…I just wanted to be left alone to play with my little insect friends.

    • Jordan

       Omar Delarosa?

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    Nobody ever told me I was unique and special.    I never wanted to be unique and special, either…I just wanted to be left alone to play with my little insect friends.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6IFPDSFKEQJE2ZPP3ASE35MRL4 Laura

    Alright, debbie downer.

  • http://twitter.com/zrmorris Zach Morrison

    Can you please marry me! I am gay, but we can hate on the world and be snarky together–plus we get the finical benefits of marriage. 

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