A friend of mine once remarked that she doesn’t look forward to Eid gatherings anymore because people just make her feel inadequate. Proud relatives announce the successes of their own children and then ask, “So what are YOU doing with your life?”
A question that makes us cringe. Needless to say that people in our stage of life go through a lot of social pressure (which is defined as someone else’s idea of how we should lead our lives). Maybe it is the way people in our societies are raised or maybe it’s because they have nothing else to talk about, it seems they are always waiting in anticipation for your next stage in life. Actually, it might seem they are more interested in your life than you yourself. If you’re single, they ask, when will you get married? If you’re married, they ask, when will we see a baby? If you give birth to a baby boy, they ask, when will we see a girl? Even some guys get asked such questions. It is as if when you were a child, they invested so much to ensure that by the time you are 26 you would be settled with a rich husband with three sweet children in your mansion, and you’ve let them down somehow because you’re single and “between jobs” (read u-n-e-m-p-l-o-y-e-d).
Their attitude towards your life is best expressed by the Turkish word, “çabuk! çabuk! çabuk!”(meaning: hurry! hurry! hurry!)
The problem is, as they bombard you with questions, they might not give you the chance to explain what you think you are doing with your life. They might not give you the chance to explain what exactly your personal measure of success is and how on earth you are working towards it (or not). You don’t get a chance to explain that people are different, and different things work for different people, that the same recipe might not work for you because your background and preferences are quite unique. They don’t give you a chance to explain that you’re still figuring it out, and how you’re okay with still figuring it out, so the pressure they’re putting on you is not helping at all.
Amanda Bast said it best, “I am 26 years old. I don’t have a husband. I don’t have children. I don’t have a career. I don’t have what people expect I should have, but I am abundantly blessed with absurd, exhilarating, and fantastic things I would have never dreamed up on my own. So please, my dear friends, don’t ask me what’s next. Ask me what’s now.”
But how do you deal with the social pressure? The easiest way is to use the Madagascar penguin technique of, “Smile and wave boys. Smile and wave.” You might change it to “smile and node” in order not to seem too weird. But more practical tips include:
1) Be comfortable with who you are. It’s easiest to become uprooted when you’re filled with insecurities about yourself. So to be comfortable with who you are, you just need to take the time to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and to have reasons for yourselves, though you are not obliged to explain anything to anybody else.
2) Listen to their advice. Listening to their advise does not necessarily mean you have to implement any of it in your life. See what works for you, and adopt that, and select what doesn’t work for you and throw it out.
3) Treat them with respect. Now a lot of times, some people get tempted to tell others to mind their own business, but understand that when they advise you on how your life should be, they might be doing it out of a genuine concern because in their eyes you are still the lost six-year-old who doesn’t know their way around life. So maybe it’s better to develop finesse and turn the conversation away from you by shining the spotlight right onto them and their children keeping in mind people love to talk about themselves (and their derivatives).
4) Have a support group. We always need that from time to another. Someone to vent and rant to. Someone to tell us that you shouldn’t worry about what they say as long as you satisfy the first scenario and are comfortable with who you are.
5) Deactivate your facebook account. Maybe you’ve noticed it yourself; you open your facebook account one morning and see your friend’s baby taking the first step and another friend updating her status with “Engaged” and a hundred photos by a third friend who has been to Malaysia during the summer. They might as well have tagged you with the question screaming at you in silver letters, “SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?” Since they are our friends, we will probably be happy for them, but just because we’re happy for them does not automatically mean that we are immune from feelings of misery because our lives seem to be as stagnant as the air at the tip of a pitot tube. There was actually a study I read once by German researches that witnessing the happy moments of your facebook friends could trigger feelings of misery and loneliness.
6) Most importantly, have trust in Allah (SWT) that whatever is meant to happen will happen so why do you worry too much when you know that you will get the rizq that has been written for you?