It’s Your Life, Dammit!

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. – Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau

How many times have you been told you should do something “just because”? For instance, you should:

  • Go to a good college and get good grades.
  • Graduate from college and get a good job.
  • Find a good partner and get married.
  • Start a family after a few years.
  • Buy a house.
  • Go to church every Sunday, religiously.
  • Buy the latest technological gadget or device.
  • Eat meat for protein.
  • Stay with the one job you have but hate just because you should be thankful for even having a job.
  • Retire after devoting and giving yourself away for 30 years at the same company.

I’m here to say that when someone tells you you should, you shouldn’t.

It’s called challenging the status quo, stepping to the beat of your own drums, having your own life where you call the shots and if you don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t have to.

It’s not about being lazy, it’s not about running away from responsibility, it’s not about being passive, and it’s not about being argumentative.

It’s about finding what works for you in your life and what makes you happy. For once you are happy with yourself and no longer trying to please others, you are living the life you’ve always dreamt of.

The above “should’s” can be challenged in this ever-changing world we live in. What has worked in the past may not always work now or for the future. The way we do things is evolving constantly and we no longer need to follow the well-worn path of life that everyone takes.

Here are 10 challenges to the most common “should’s”:

1. “You should go to a good college and get good grades.”

Who says you need a college degree in order to do anything in this world? Many leading businessmen and entrepreneurs never completed college or even went!

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, never completed college, having dropped out of Harvard after his second year. His reasoning? “I realized the error of my ways and decided I could make do with a high school diploma.”

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers and Pixar Animation, dropped out of Reed College after six months, declaring, “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and how college was going to help me figure it out.”

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, dropped out of Harvard to work on his social networking website he founded in his dorm room in 2004.

J. K. Rowling, best-selling novelist of the Harry Potter series, never attended college.

Point is, an education does not need to be school-book formal. Yes, I do have an education from a 4-year institution, so I am not one to say from experience. But what I have seen, read, and from those I’ve spoken with, formal education is no longer necessary to succeed in life.

And truly, what is success? Is it just the amount of money we have in the bank under our name? No, it shouldn’t be. That should not determine if we have “made it”.

What makes us successful is interpreted differently to various groups of people and societies. To some, it’s about the money. To others, it’s about power. It can be about fame. Whatever it is, a successful life is not doing what you’re told to do; a successful life is doing what you choose to do.

2. “Graduate from college and get a good job.”

Once people graduate from college, the next automated step is to find and land a good job. Good job as in it’s with a company people have heard of, it has a stable environment, it’s a white-collar job where you won’t be associated with blue-collar workers, and one in which your parents can be proud to say that “my son/daughter works for company X.”


Life doesn’t always work this way. Neither should it work this way.

I left my coveted position in corporate HR in a Fortune 50 company because I begun to hate it. I begun to hate myself. Sleepless nights, nightmares when I actually do fall asleep, exhaustion from over-working, depression, verbal abuse from co-workers and boss, all begun to wear on me and take its toll. Sooner or later, I realized, that if this pattern continues, something or someone will have to give. And it most likely would be me. So I made the decision to leave. Same day I turned in my resignation letter, was the day my boss told me to pack my stuff and just leave. No two-week transition period to find a replacement. Just go. And hand over your employee badge now.

People don’t deserve to be treated this way. Nor should this be commonplace in companies, but it is. I don’t care how much money I was making or how famous of a company it is, if I’m severely unhappy to the point of depression and hatred in my life, no job is ever “good enough” for me to stay.

Of course, there were many people, especially from my parents and family members, who told me this is a very foolish decision and I should not be quitting. (See how the “should’s” overlooks the reality of events? Doesn’t matter that I was absolutely going insane, I need to stay because it’s a “good” job!) Never mind I hated the job, never mind I had no life apart from it, never mind the emotional and physical toll the verbal abuse was taking on me. It’s a “good” job in a “good” company.

To that, I say, NO. You never have to do what others tell you you should. Sometimes it will be for your own good and other times, it will not. What you need to do is make a decision that is best for you and be at peace with it. Don’t back down and don’t justify why. After all, it is your life and you are responsible for your own happiness.

3. “Find a good partner and get married.”

When I was 13 years old, our class had to make and write our own autobiographies for a school project. I wrote down that I wanted to get married in my mid-20′s, have two kids, and have a pet dog. Never mind I didn’t know a single thing of what this entails and really how difficult it is to find a good person to marry. Will I even marry? Will I even have kids? I certainly want a dog, but that’s besides the point.

Fact of the matter is, I’m in my mid-20′s and still boyfriend-less. I am okay with that, but some family members are getting “worried”. For me, I’d much rather stay single and happy than married and depressed. It is not something I take lightly, marriage or the prospects of it. I will choose to be with someone I love, not because I have to. Thankfully, we live in a time where we have this choice. My grandparents’ marriage was arranged. Some could not choose. But I can.

4. “Start a family after a few years.”

Yes, I understand procreation is a necessity for our kind to continue on, generation after generation. But with billions of us around, the fate of the world does not rest upon you having to have kids. Only if you want to, are ready to, and mature enough to take care of another life, should this be a choice. But if you’re not, not only have you just screwed yourself, but you have another person’s survival and dependence weighing on your shoulders.

This is not a matter to be taken lightly. You don’t wake up one day and declare, “Hm. I want kids! They look like fun.”

Just because your parents are demanding grandchildren does not mean you give them that. You have to want to, as well, and be ready for it.

This is a “should” that you shouldn’t, if you’re not ready or don’t want kids.

5. “Buy a house.”

You hear it all the time: “Buying a house is an investment.” “You should really consider owning some property.” “Don’t just throw your money away by renting.”

But is it, really? It’s another “should” that is not something you do automatically just because your parents or society has said so. It should be a decision based on your lifestyle, your needs, and your wants.

If you plan on living in one town for the rest of your life, maybe buying a place would be more reasonable. But if you enjoy traveling, have a job that requires you to relocate every five years, or don’t like the fact that your entire paycheck, month after month, goes towards paying your mortgage, then buying property may not be for you. Make your own decision. It’s your life, it’s your money.

Read this article on Renting vs. Buying for a breakdown of the hard facts.

6. “Go to church every Sunday, religiously.”

Religion is man-made. Rules and traditions are created for the masses, so they can be like sheep and follow the herd. There is no need to understand the why and please don’t ask any questions. Just obey and go through the motions. I am not exaggerating because I’ve been there, done that, and see many people who do this on a regular basis.

I’ve experienced religion at its worst and at its best and have concluded: I don’t have a religion. I have life values, beliefs, and principles I live by. These are not governed by a spiritual doctrine or a religious sect. This is authentic and it’s real.

Too often people go to church or mass just once or twice a year, on Easter Sunday and on Christmas Day. Then they walk out feeling like they’ve done their part. Now they go live their life however they want to. What was this act then? Putting on a show just so you can tell people Monday morning at work what you did over the weekend included going to church, so you must be a good family-values man? It was just a motion set forth by tradition or a lack of understanding on their part of what the meaning is behind these holidays, besides them getting the day off. Others go once a week and cleanses their sins of the past week just to start over again and accumulate in their bucket of sins. It’s become fake. And that’s not cool.

I don’t need people to tell me to go to church or start reading the Bible as much as I need a flat tire. What I do need is respect from others to live our lives the way we want and to love others authentically. No amount of “should” will make a person do something if he or she does not want to do it. That is human nature.

7. “Buy the latest technological gadget or device.”

I don’t own an iPod or an iPhone or anything “i” for that matter (at least, for now). I don’t even have texting (!!) on my cell phone and rarely use my phone at all. I don’t have MySpace, and I’m not on LinkedIn. (I am on and , though.) I’m not plugged into the Internet 24/7 and check my e-mail incessantly. I am not addicted. I have a life and it doesn’t always involve technology.

You would not believe how many times I’ve been told that I should get an iPod. “It’s really cheap nowadays.” “There are so many models to choose from.” “You can do so much with it now!” “Just get one, they’re fun.”

And just because some people jump off a bridge I should do it too?

What I have now is what works for me and my lifestyle. As I grow and change, so will my things. It is not stagnant nor am I. I don’t buy or acquire things because everyone else is doing it.

You have to be comfortable in your own skin, enough so you can withstand pressures from outside forces telling you to get the latest gadget.

8. “Eat meat for protein.”

Even with vegetarians and vegans out there almost as numerous as carnivores, the “eat meat for protein” has been so ingrained in our belief system that it’s hard to break. There are plenty of foods that have protein in which are not animal byproducts. Foods such as soybeans, tofu, beans, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and so much more.

You don’t have to finish off a huge T-bone steak in order to get your daily intake of protein or to build muscle. You don’t have to eat tons of red meat, chicken, or pork in order to be a top athlete.

Here are some vegetarians/vegans who are top athletes:

  • Carl Lewis (Track and Field)
  • Scott Jurek (Ultramarathon athlete)
  • Brendan Brazier (Ironman triathlete)
  • Kenneth Williams (Bodybuilder)
  • Prince Fielder (Major League Baseball Player)
  • Mac Danzig (Mixed Martial Arts Fighter)

I’ve been slowly cutting back on meat and have only eaten chicken a few times in the past 3 months. Most of the time, I eat tofu, fish, rice, noodles, vegetables, nuts, and drink soymilk and almondmilk.

The difference? I feel healthier, less weighed down, less heavy, and have better digestion. I am a martial artist and certainly know the effects of poor eating habits can have on my performance. So I choose to eat healthier and that means less to no meat.

9. “Stay with the one job you have but hate just because you should be thankful for even having a job.”

Having a job that you hate is one of the slowest kinds of living deaths we can experience. It seriously eats away at your soul, piece by piece, day by day, hour by hour.

You can tell when someone despises their job. They walk grudgingly, they are not motivated, their Monday blues extends into Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday blues (Friday not so much), a smile hardly is ever shown from their down-trodden faces, they count down the hours and minutes until they can leave, they do just good enough to eek by the yearly performance review and not get fired.

They are, in fact, the living dead amongst us.

If you find yourself slowly dying as each day passes at your job, find a way to get out. Cut your expenses down so you can subsist on less income. Get rid of your things. Get rid of your TV, your Cable, your car, your furniture, anything that will get in the way of you living simply and freely.

In this recession, people are saying “Just be thankful for having a job, okay?” To a certain extent, yes, I agree. We should be thankful for what we do have because so many others have far less. We are abundantly rich in comparison.

This is not about entitlement. It is not about being cocky and overly confident in ourselves and saying we deserve better when we haven’t shown others a reason why.

What it is about, however, is a choice you have to make. Would you rather choose to stay in a job that is eating away at your life and soul just to make your parents or other people happy or would you rather choose to pursue your dreams at the cost of making others angry that you didn’t follow the status quo? You choose. It is your life.

10. “Retire after devoting and giving yourself away for 30 years at the same company.”

Retirement and anniversary parties are being held at my company right now for those that have served 10, 20, 30+ years there. Some seem genuinely happy with themselves and the time they’ve given to serve there is not for naught. Others look less than pleased and just want the free cake and company gift.

It is not the life you have to live, though. You don’t have to stick around at the same company for years on end, holding onto it like a life preserver. It’s more like a life deflater than anything. Especially if you hate your job.

Many independent, successful writers, authors, and bloggers are living their lives happily without giving themselves away as corporate slaves. Such people include Leo Babauta, author of his new book The Power of Less and top blog, Colin Wright, a location-independent lifestyle designer and blogger of Exile Lifestyle, Tammy Strobel, a writer on Rowdy Kittens who lives car-free, and Everett Bogue, a location-independent minimalist blogger of Far Beyond the Stars.

My goal is that whatever I am doing, whether that be in a corporate job or not, that I am happy with myself and where I am in life. If I am not, I need to be taking steps towards getting to where I need to be in order to be happy. Are you?

  • Simple Spaces

    Wow, what a passionate post and so much word on many points especially about religion and #3. I always felt that I was misguided in thinking about life past school. I too was told, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, and retire. But life is more than that. My experiences have been less predictable and in fact, I never imagined what life was really like.

  • Castles in the Air

    Same here, Kiran. You just never know how life is really going to be until you’re living it and thinking, “I didn’t think my life was going to be like this!” Gotta roll with the punches, though, and live it according to you!

  • Jonathan Chan

    1-2. Success – in everything we do, we choose to do it with all our mind and heart, leave no regrets in life. I believe living this way = a successful life. If it means go to college and get a degree; then do it. If it means going to another country to serve the poor and needy, then do it. Personally, I think Mother Teresa is more successful than a lot of millionaires and billionaires.

    3-4. Agree with raising kids. It’s a huge responsibility. I will never have kids simply because other people say I should have children. It’s a choice solely between my future wife and me. Personally I am okay with or without kids – for now I’d say it’ll up to my future wife. But bringing up a child truly takes hard work. As for getting married? Yes, on surface, it’s difficult to find a mature, good person who’s available – but look beyond the surface, sometimes we may see things differently. I know people who wait and get married late, but they find someone who has a golden heart.

    5. Live in a tent or in a forest sounds much better =) Of course, if someone can deliver hot coffee or food… it’ll be a plus. Yay…

    6. Can’t agree more with you. Christianity is not a religion… it’s a relationship! So many people miss this important point. Going to church doesn’t make us a Christian. Singing hymns and dancing and reading the Bible also doesn’t make us a Christian. Only be like Jesus and have a relationship with Jesus does make us a true and authentic Christian.

    7. Yup. I don’t have an ipod, don’t use text messaging, don’t use facebook, tweeter nor myspace; don’t have a GPS, don’t even use IM at home… simple is better. I can better use my time and energy to do other things – walking; running; reading; do things for others and make a difference in other people’s life.

    8. A balance and healthy diet is most important.

    9-10. Being able to find happiness, fulfillment, and enjoy what we do is most important – no matter it’s a corporate job or self-employed or work for a small non-profit organization. Losing the passion for our job is like going towards a dead-end road – time to turn around!

    Afterall – if someone needs to lead the orchestra, he/she must turn his/her back on the crowd. Many times, following what other people do isn’t wise and it’s not good for us. GrEaT post and keep it up =)

  • Castles in the Air

    Thank you for the excellent comments!

  • Castles in the Air » Blog Archive » When Gifts From Others Become Burdens, How Do You Deal?

    [...] I offer 3 options? You choose what you’d like to do. It is, after all, your life. [...]

  • Mark

    It’s this herd mentality that destroys us! Breaking free can be one of the hardest things we ever do. It goes against everything we were brought up to do. I can feel the energy of emotions in this writing. Breaking free from these set rules has been one of the most liberating feelings of life.

  • Nina Yau

    :) Thank you, Mark. It is when we truly listen to our hearts, and then follow it, that we can be free. Free from others’ expectations, free from outside negative influences, free from “standards” to live up to or live by, free from mediocrity. nnIs it any wonder that freedom comes with a price then? It is as valuable as gold, and then, even more so. For gold can perish. Freedom cannot.

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