This piece originally appeared in Thought Catalog, September 22, 2016.
You know you’re South Asian when you have that notorious ‘life checklist’ ingrained into your head, which apparently determines the fate of your life and the entirety of your existence.
It’s funny because your parents, your immediate family, your extended family, your larger extended family, your family friends, your friends of friends of family… they all follow this checklist. But more importantly, they all want to make sure you’re following it too.
It’s more or less a version of this:
Go to School (translation: keep your nose in your books and don’t talk to anyone)
Get Good Grades (translation: ‘good’ means nothing less than A+, so don’t you dare come home all excited with a B in Pre Calc)
Go to College (translation: keep your nose in your books and don’t talk to anyone)
Land a Great Job (translation: ‘great’ means nothing less than a profession in law, business, or medicine, and will be directly measured in monetary value)
Work Hard (translation: work hard, but don’t work too hard because it’s now time for you to find someone to be your husband / wife)
Get Married (translation: get married fast. The faster you get married, the faster you can have grandchildren)
Have Kids (translation: have more than 1 kid)
Have Your Kids Repeat numbers 1 through 7 (translation: have your kids repeat numbers 1 through 7)
Retire (translation: congrats! now you can relax and do whatever you want)
*Fine Print: Numbers 1 through 7 should be completed before the age of 30.
That was the order to be followed to the T. No turns, no re-routes, no self creation. That’s what my parents did, that’s what their parents did, that’s what their parents did. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m not sure if growing up in a traditional household with strong religious roots had anything to do with it, but I do find myself questioning this ‘sacred’ order of life. It seems a bit robotic… a bit empty. Let’s face it, whether you’re South Asian, Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, Indonesian, whatever– everyone’s got their own version of a ‘life checklist’ that they deem necessary to follow.
Now if this was me a few years ago, I probably would’ve been too busy continuing along that race to check shit off, because at that time I thought I was ‘supposed’ to.
However, the more I grow and evolve, I realize that there is no right way to go about your life. There is no universal formula or general rulebook, and definitely no checklist that tells you how to navigate your life.
Your life is your course– completely your creation. There are no metrics of success that will determine if you’re doing this whole thing right or wrong or slow or fast.
Which brings me to my next philosophy:
worry less about what you think you should do, and more about what you want to do.
Say it out loud —- It’s incredibly liberating.
Maybe it’s traveling the world before going to college. Or it’s taking a chance on a long-distance relationship that may or may not last in 2 years. Or maybe it’s quitting your cushy job and starting a new career path that you’re truly passionate about, yet simultaneously terrified of failing at.
Whatever those dreams are and wherever those passions live– find them and do them. And do them whenever you want. It’s never too late or too early.
Now I know the mere idea of driving off course may sound scary to some, or irresponsible to others—sometimes I still shudder when those words take action in my own life. But when are we going to stop letting others dictate our life so much so that we don’t even recognize our own voice, our own thoughts, our own cravings?
Judgments, stereotypes, generalizations… these plagues are going to exist for lifetimes to come. The idea isn’t to live without them, it’s to live with them. And to do so without others’ dictation.
How often I’m told that time is running out, and how I should focus my efforts in settling down and getting married instead of putting so much time and effort into my career. But who decides what that time frame is? Who decides when my time ‘runs’ out? Who decides what my ‘main priorities’ should be?
Other than the inevitable fate, my life is my course. And my course is something I get to dictate.
So here I sit, in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment in one of the most kinetic cities in the world, with nothing but passionate and buoyant dreams for my life. Not a clue as to when and how this will all come into fruition.
But that’s for me to dictate. Not you.