The Rulebook You Didn’t Write

We all have things in our lives that we do and see but don’t really review or think too much about. Like those daily rituals that we casually participate in or those unspoken rules that we nonchalantly abide by – without properly taking pause to question and wonder:

“Why exactly am I doing this?”

Over the years I have met so many people who – in the final stretch of their journey towards success, prosperity and happiness – slow down just long enough to take the proverbial ‘long hard look’ at their lives. And after taking stock, what many of them realize is that – while they’ve achieved just about everything they thought they were supposed to in life – a void still remains.

I’m talking about folks (usually in their 40’s and beyond) who, despite having ticked every box on the prescribed ‘happiness and fulfillment’ checklist, find it puzzling to discover that those very things still seem to elude them.

I can relate to their bafflement and malaise.

Several years ago I was forced (by the hand of fate) to perform a similar assessment of my life  – and came up short in those same areas.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why…

We are offered many prescriptions for happiness and success when we’re growing up.

Well, I certainly was.

And later, I found that many of these were actually quite misleading and needlessly elaborate. I don’t blame the people that offered me such flawed counsel though. They just did what their parents did, and their parents before them. There’s an entrenched system in place – a culture if you will – that exerts influence (and often pressure) on individuals to cooperate, co-opt and adhere to a way of life. It’s as if we all get handed down some sort of guidebook to a successful and fulfilling life. And while it’s most certainly filled with some useful and constructive information, it’s also an inflexible, one-size-fits-all kind of book that the we didn’t necessarily help to write.

When I meet young people, I like to ask them questions about their dreams, aspirations and plans. And I’m often struck by how many of them sound like they’re reading from some press release or script.

“I’m going to get married and have 3 children!” said a 22 year old (male) during one inflight encounter.

“That sounds wonderful!” I said. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

“There isn’t one.” he replied.

“Oh, I see. Then may I ask why?” I enquired.

“Why what?” he asked.

“Why do you want to get married to and have 3 children from a woman you’ve yet to meet or even love enough to want to do so with?”

As I expected, he gave me that dazed ‘could you repeat the question’ look before laughing nervously.

“Because that’s what one does.” he said quizzically.

“Perhaps. But is that what you want to do?” I asked.

“I suppose so.” he mumbled. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”

He hadn’t really thought about it.

His attention focused on the inflight magazine for the remainder of the flight, but I could tell that he was thinking about my question.

Of course, it was not my intention to dissuade this young man from marrying or having kids. I simply wanted to point out to him that he had other choices. Choices he evidently didn’t think were available to him.

We all have the power of choice.

Yes. No.

Now. Later.

Left. Right.

Today. Tomorrow.

And as for my relationship with the ‘rulebook’, I appreciate why it’s there and where it’s coming from, but I also see its flaws and failings. And I feel grateful for having had the temerity and courage of conviction to question and reject some of its teachings before committing to certain life choices that I know I would have deeply regretted today.

I’m proud and privileged to announce that I’m now living the life I want – not the life I thought I was supposed to want. And I’ve never been happier or more at peace.

Whose life are you living, Dear Young Person?

Imraan Vagar

Author: Imraan Vagar

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  1. Avatar

    what happens if you wind up upsetting your family snd community?

    Post a Reply
    • Imraan Vagar

      There is always that possibility Ahmed.

      It’s very hard to go against the common will, but it’s a question of being true to yourself and doing what’s right for you – because, though others will try and claim ownership of it, this life you’ve been given is yours to live as you see fit.

      If you do stuff to please everybody else but yourself, there’s a distinct possibility that you will be miserable in the long run. Living contrary to who you are and what you believe in is too much of a sacrifice for the greater good I feel. Respectfully saying “sorry, but I don’t think this is right for me, thank you” might make you unpopular at first – but folks secretly admire and respect people with the courage and integrity to be who they are.

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  2. Avatar

    The “one size fits all” expression is spot on. Such a pleasure to read this, thank you!

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