The Way Things Are Isn’t The Way Things Have To Be

Recently, I wrote about the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The way we cast ourselves (victim, reject, center of the universe) affects the way we experience the world. If we think everyone’s against us, we’ll keep seeing things that reinforce that story. If we think we’re better than everyone else, people will constantly let us down. We react to things based on the story we believe about our world, and as a result, we wind up perpetuating the story by playing along with it.

But there’s a bigger story, a story so hulking and omnipresent it warrants a post in itself. It’s a really shitty story our whole society has deluded itself into believing. That really shitty story is the ridiculously depressing notion of “The Way Things Are.”

You may not realize The Way Things Are is a story. That’s part of what makes it so devious (and powerful). Most people just accept that it really is… well… the way things are. As a result, they play along with it without realizing they have any other choice. They take it as a given rather than one way of seeing things.

And since the majority of people are going along with it, it really does become the way things are.


So, How Are Things?

Pretty damn crappy, if you believe the story.

If you subscribe to the general belief in The Way Things Are, life is a pretty grim set of circumstances you can’t control and probably don’t like. Here are some elements of “The Way Things Are” mentality:

  • You have no choice but to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for pretty much most of your life.
  • You have to do this because you have to have a car, a house, 10 credit cards and a steady stream of stuff and distractions at all times to keep you happy.
  • You need to be kept happy because you probably hate the job that takes up the majority of your waking hours.
  • (Lather, rinse, repeat the above 3 phrases as needed. It’s a nice vicious circle.)
  • You deserve lots of things you can’t afford because you put up with the unfairness of the above circle. Future You can deal with paying for these things.
  • Debt is something you only need to think about when the bills come each month. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying off that flat-screen TV for the next 30 years, because they’re probably going to be 30 miserable years anyway, and the least you deserve is to be able to watch Dancing with the Stars in high-quality HD.
  • What you do doesn’t matter.
  • Dreams are for the naïve and the misguided. Resignation is the mark of a real, functioning adult.
  • If you don’t already kind of dislike your spouse, you probably will after enough time together. Kids will only make this worse.
  • You should still have kids anyway.
  • No one is where they want to be. That’s just part of growing up.
  • No one likes The Way Things Are, but they can’t be changed. Suck it up, have a drink, go out and buy something. It’s almost the weekend.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. And I think you probably recognize the story by now.


If We All Hate This Story So Much, Why Do We Keep Telling It to Ourselves?

The thing is, no one is really happy living according to The Way Things Are. Any story you have to constantly resign yourself to is not a good one.

So why do so many of us resign ourselves to it?

Because we don’t realize we have any other choice. If we did, we think, more people would be doing something different, wouldn’t they? The fact that everyone around us seems to be keeping their heads down and trudging along makes us think that must be our only option. So we all put our heads down and keep trudging, and this grim picture of the world continues to be the way things actually are because no one realizes it can be any different.

It’s not surprising most of us don’t think to question it. Everything around us reinforces the story.

TV shows give us characters who live neatly in The Way Things Are: dysfunctional families, disgruntled cube farm workers, harried moms and overworked suits and couples who communicate in nasty one-liners. We find these shows funny or moving because they portray things we recognize. They make us feel better about our own shitty circumstances by delivering the reassurance that “we’re all in this together.” You don’t see many shows about minimalist, location-independent lifestyle designers living life on their own terms. (And if you did, people would probably argue that they’re completely unrealistic.)

Commercials sell us products to help us escape from The Way Things Are. We deserve that big SUV with dual heat zones and seat-back DVD players because nothing else in our lives is going right, and the least we can do is give little Johnny the comfort of knowing we’re keeping up with the Joneses. (The money we put towards that SUV could fund part of little Johnny’s college education, but what matters is pleasing Johnny, and ourselves, N-O-W.) We need energy drinks because we’re exhausted after 8 hours at a desk and only have an evening of drudgery to follow, and it’s easier to guzzle a little bottle of something than find a lifestyle that actually energizes us.

We’re inundated with ways to work around The Way Things Are, to distract ourselves from The Way Things Are, to make The Way Things Are a little easier to live with. But The Way Things Are, in itself, is considered a given. And if everyone around you is operating under the notion the earth is flat, you have no reason to stop and wonder if it’s not. You just go on living the best little flat life you think you can.


What You Don’t Know

What you don’t know could turn everything upside down.

Did you know it’s possible to sell all your stuff, pay down your debt and be free to live literally anywhere you want, at anytime?

Did you know you can visit every single country in the world in 5 years?

Did you know playing it unsafe is a viable option?

It’s time to free yourself from The Way Things Are and instead create The Way Things Ought To Be. (Tweet!) Poke around the blogosphere long enough and you’ll find that more and more people are doing it — real-life, ordinary people who are, in their own ways, rejecting the mass delusion and creating the lives they’ve always wanted. Start reading just a few of their stories. It’s like someone flipping the Technicolor switch after you’ve been watching black and white all your life.

I’m not gonna lie to you. It takes hard work and some serious faith to pursue a life on your own terms. Another reason The Way Things Are has such a stronghold on us is because, shitty and completely miserable as it is, it’s oh so easy to fall in step with it. But you’re always sacrificing something, whichever story you choose to live by. The choose-your-own adventure stories take discipline, hard work and a willingness to stand out and be different. The Way Things Are story takes your soul, your dreams and your day-to-day and long-term happiness.

Guess which sacrifices I believe are the better deal?

It’s your choice. It’s your story. Which road are you going to take?

Image: Eamon Brett / Flickr

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  • Yeah!! Preach on, sistah!

    • Cordelia

      Right back at you! Loved the recent post!!

      • Thanks!! 😀

  • Great blog. I reallyneeded to hear this – I’m no longer living The Way Things Are. I made a big change about five months ago, leaving my newspaper job to finish grad school, but I still get echoes of The Way Things Are. I still feel like since my comrades at the newspaper (and most people I know and love) are trudging along, meeting society’s expectations and suffering for it, so sometimes I feel like I’m not carrying my fair share. Sometimes I irrationally feel like because I’m not suffering the way I suffered when I was working all the time, that I am the grasshopper from the Aesop’s fable.
    It’s not rational, but The Way Things Are is still a part of my psyche.

    So thank you. I needed to read this today.

    • Cordelia

      I’m so glad it helped you!

      I’ve struggled with similar pangs when it comes to following my dreams while everyone else around me is still trudging along. Part of me feels guilty every time I tell someone my 3 Year Plan to leave my job, because way too often I get the “Well, wouldn’t THAT be nice?” response. It makes me feel like I’m being selfish for not trudging along with everyone else.

      But you know what? There’s nothing “take one for the team” about trudging just because everyone else is. We have to live our own lives the best way we can, and honestly, I think you can help *more* people by doing just that. You have your own unique calling, and you owe it to the world to pursue that. And if anything, seeing you break free and follow your dreams might inspire others to try the same.

      Never feel guilty for not “carrying your fair share.” You’re working and contributing, too–just by doing something that is uniquely yours rather than what everyone else is doing. There will always be people happy to trudge along for the paycheck and live their lives quietly. The world needs more people to let them know there’s an alternative!

  • Cordelia’s Mom

    Gee, sure sounds like someone had a rocky day today!

    • Cordelia

      Nope, not rocky at all. Pretty good, actually, now that I’m starting to see things clearly. 🙂

  • Cordelia

    November 2013 is the date things will start changing. That’s when I’ll have the financial wiggle room to be able to start exploring other options. I’m not sure yet if I’ll go part-time to start, or find a different job, or what have you, but the ultimate goal is to build up enough savings to quit altogether and work for myself. If the fates smile upon me enough that something happens between now and then enabling me to quit in 2013, that would be phenomenal. But that’s at least the point at which things will really start in motion.

    I don’t hate my current job, per se. It’s a good job with good people, and as far as jobs go, it’s treated me well enough. But I have a fundamental issue with spending 40 hours a week every week of your life doing things that don’t mean anything you to just for a paycheck. I’ve got way too many other things I want to be doing with my time on this planet.

    • Can I just high five you here? Look how far you’ve come!

      • I have to say I’m impressed to realize I initially quoted myself at Nov. 2013 and it happened in April 2013. I hereby predict I’ll earn enough money from this blog I won’t have to pursue any outside clients starting in November 2016….

        Let’s see where that takes us. 😀

  • Anonymous

    so when are you quitting the job you supposedly hate?

    • It happened in April 2013. 🙂

  • Wow! Excellent post. And a splash of cold water in the face of some people I bet. I realized this about 9 months ago when I started writing my blog and my book. It’s very scary and hard and it takes a long time. But you are guaranteed to be about 10 times happier, lol. And fulfilled.

    When I think about it, I just think about how short life is. Do I really want to waste it? No. I want to fulfill it. Thanks for the reminder Kelly!

    • Cordelia

      You’re more than welcome!

      I’m happy to hear it might be a splash of cold water–I know I often need one of those myself, and I sincerely hope I can provide that to my readers from time to time. I’m fully in agreement with Niels Hermus’s recent post “Why Readers Like to Get Hit in the Face”:

  • Great great great post.

    So many people shuffle along in lockstep, spending $$ on shit they don’t need to compensate themselves for the lives they really wanted but none of their friends chose or their parents sneered at or…

    We get one chance for our lifetime. Much wiser to know what you truly desire and go after it with determination and focus. Others will be jealous that you even know there ARE options, let alone are going after them and will achieve them.

    Inspiring, smart stuff. Thanks.

    • Cordelia

      Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s a reminder to myself as well as my dear readers. Like you said, we’ve only got one shot at this. Let’s make it count!

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  • I also dislike the cousin of “that’s the way things are”, “that’s just the way I am.” I think that’s a bullshit excuse. Change is possible!

    • Cordelia

      Wholeheartedly agreed!

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  • I’m so glad this post spoke to you!  It’s one of the tenets of my personal philosophy towards life.

    You can absolutely come up with a plan to change things…People are taking these steps every day, and there are plenty of blogs and resources out there that can help you.  If you want any tips or just want to vent, don’t hesitate to email me and we can chat!

    p.s.  I know all too well the feeling of “imminent internal combustion.”  Even though I *am* in the process of freeing myself, that doesn’t mean that sitting at my desk for 8 hours slogging through my current day job doesn’t still make me want to scream and flee on a regular basis.  🙂  I am so with you, girl!

  • I just found this one through Cordelian Philosophy.
    ~ So True – we really don’t have to buy into the whole “It is what it is” paradigm.
    Shanna wrote about this dayum Story, just now –

    Oh, and here’s an older post from Bridget Pilloud –

    Hooray for positive reinforcement! 😉

    Bright Blessings!  Karen 

  • Just bounced back here from “Are You Chaining Your Elephant?” (Oct. 7, 2013)!

    Ash Amberge just published another kick-ass (and hilarious) list of BS that we are *taught to believe* here, too:

    Hugs and screen spit, Cordelia!

    • Yes! That’s going up on my Link Love this week. It’s actually by Ash’s new team member Jessica, who I freakin’ adore. So much goodness going on on that blog…

  • I LOVE this post SOOOOO much 🙂

    • And I love you!

      Random PS – Yana never got back to me, although I tried following up. I’m totally cool if she decided not to go ahead with our arrangement, just want to make sure she’s OK!

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  • r-evove

    Great Post Cordelia!
    First time I’ve read it and couldn’t agree more. We all should aspire to more than trading dollars for hours. I’m sure most of us enjoy most parts of our jobs but there is so much more out there.
    I’m very confident we all have a dream to… be in a rock band, drive race cars, play professional sports, write, share, create. We should pursue these ambitions. See them through. Find our passions and be happy.
    Life is way to short to work on someone else’s goals. Let’s give our own a shot!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • If you don’t play the leading role in your own story, you become a supporting actor in someone else’s. 🙂

      • r-evove

        Indeed and perfect point! Thanks!

  • Julie

    Fantastic Post. Really toched something in me.

    • I’m glad. I hope it inspires you to take action!

  • I think this is one of the first posts of yours that I read! Nice flash-back 🙂 Actually I think the FIRST post of yours I saw was the one with the headline involving… broccoli maybe? Or brussels sprouts? Also: personal narratives are something I’ve been thinking on a LOT these past few months. I just got tired of saying “I don’t have time for that” or “I’m too tired for that” or “I can’t afford that” over and over and over… and it led me here:

    • Wow, lady, you really HAVE been around since the beginning. The brussel sprouts post was my first WP Freshly Pressed back in November 2010, the same month I started the blog. I had no idea you’ve been hauling along with me for that long! (Thank you for sticking around.)

      Loving your personal narrative blog. I could stand to re-examine my own current narratives and what they’re doing to me.

      P.S. New site design? Looks snazzy!