I am here to take issue with the phrase “supposed to.” It may have a place when referring to household chores or speed limits or syllabi, but I want it to have no place in the grand scheme of my life– of anyone’s life. It’s possible you’re supposed to take the trash out on Tuesday nights, you’re supposed to yield to pedestrians, you’re supposed to turn in your midterm paper by 5pm three weeks from today, but beyond that I want nothing to do with it.
“Supposed to” is crippling, it’s inhibiting, it’s uninvited. “Supposed to” is a stencil I didn’t ask for, a set of thick black lines that cramp my style. My point is that “supposed to” may have its uses when trying to get young children to stay within the low painted walls of the campo or dogs not to pull you when you’re crunching through the snowy woods, but when it comes to how you live your life, where you go, who becomes part of your universe, “supposed to” should not exist.
I spent the entirety of fall quarter holding myself up to standards I hadn’t set, looking for jobs I didn’t want, adhering to guidelines that were completely irrelevant to my life, my interests, my personality, my dreams. I don’t know when the moment occurred, perhaps on the phone with Nellie or reading “The Future Has An Ancient Heart,” but it brilliantly and suddenly occurred to me that there is nothing you’re supposed to do. There is no way you’re supposed to live. And if you are feeling the pressure of those things, it is a construct of some third party– one you should be ignoring. Your life is stunningly, thrillingly, singularly yours. There is no stencil. There is no rulebook. There are no speed limits.
There are so many millions of dazzling avenues that lay ahead, ones with forks and alleyways and offshoots, and there is no right way to go, no right path to take. Each one of us is different, wants different things, has a different starlight guiding us onward. How could there possibly be a “supposed to”?
I found out yesterday that I was accepted to NOLS next fall, which will essentially involve me backpacking, mountaineering and sea kayaking around New Zealand’s South Island for three months. At whatever point I dispensed with “supposed to,” I realized that especially as an aspiring writer, there is no set career path I have to take. Anything I do that involves me seeing things, gaining experiences, meeting people, learning things–will be beneficial to my writing in the end. And beneficial to me as a human being in the world– something I think is true of every single person, regardless of their career trajectory. Spending three months outdoors seemed a great a way as any to spend a few months out of the two (or so) years I take off before getting my MFA in creative writing. And strangely enough, I realized that I would not have been able to take advantage of NOLS had I not been able to graduate early this March and save a quarter’s worth of tuition. And had I been accepted to the year-long fiction writing sequence I applied to for this year, I would not have been able to graduate early. Further proof that we have absolutely no idea what lies ahead of us the majority of the time.
The choices we make are ours, no matter what point of our lives we’re at. Whether you’re seventeen and looking at colleges, whether you’re twenty-two and trying to figure out your next step, whether you’re fifty and figuring out what’s best for your family, whether you’re seventy-two and deciding how to fill your days. What is right for one person might be completely wrong for another person, and vice versa.
You have to decide what’s important to you, decide what you want, and chase it down. Success does not fit into a universal definition, it is a unique, specialized concept that has a different shape and color and sound for each person.
Call your own shots. Cut your own trails. Seek happiness as hard as you can.