Written by Genevie Hong and edited by Owen Spargo
There are two paths that you can choose to take, yours or the ones others chose for you.
We live in a world where issues such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism exist. Suppose that these never existed, what would our world be like? These norms have infiltrated our everyday lives, teaching us how to act and influencing our decisions. We still see these issues everyday. We hear about the effects of racism and transphobia on the news. Maybe you’ve seen or experienced these issues. It is expressed in toy-stores where toys are marketed towards a specific gender. It is expressed in magazines defining the “ideal” body type. We see racial stereotypes in movies and shows. It also has influenced the lack of diversity and gender gap in technology companies and entertainment industries.
Men are expected to be masculine.
Men don’t cry.
Boys shouldn’t wear makeup.
Women are supposed to cook, clean, and serve.
Girls are expected to wear a full face of makeup.
Oh, you’re Asian, so you want to be a doctor when you grow up?
You have to be skinny to be pretty.
Societal norms are fixed ideas or unwritten rules formed by society that influence us in almost every way. They affect the way we think, act, and speak. They contribute to our judgements, decisions, and how we perceive others.
These are NOT official rules, but rather thoughts or beliefs formed by closed-minded people and generalized into society! No one is born racist, homophobic, or sexist. These things were taught. Without even noticing, we grow up trying to conform to the expectations of others. We succumb to peer pressure to fit in. We’ve been brainwashed by the hypercritical thoughts of society, trapping ourselves in a normative box without even knowing it.
Because of these toxic stereotypes which have inadvertently become social norms, we fear what other people think of us. We strive to fit the mold in every way possible so we don’t stand out. Those who don’t, are often looked down upon or seen as “different”.
Have you ever heard the quote, “You become who you hang out with,”? Your parents who raised you, family, close friends, teachers, and community make an impact on who you become. In this case, this is your society. We are greatly influenced by the people around us, the experiences we face, and the environment we grow up in. Societal norms affect us in almost every way.
Fortunately, we are amidst the state of change. Like TEDx speaker, Shana Xia, would say, “We are in the age of breaking social norms.” Our generation is evolving and we can see the growing awareness on these issues and the push for equality. These societal norms are being challenged, creating a much more accepting environment, making it easier to break them. Our generation has become much more accepting that even things now are so much mroe widely accepted than 50 years ago! With the power of advocacy, we are making our voices heard, and it can be seen all around us. There are numerous communities, social media platforms, protests, and clubs aimed at educating about these issues and creating a safe space for others. The youth are the leaders of tomorrow, the driving forces of change. The impact of activism develops gradually and change just doesn’t happen overnight. It has been built up over time by the many activists or leaders of change in history such as Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr, and many more. With the courage and ambition, it only takes one person to change the world.
Societal norms may be resisting us from tapping into our true potentials, and here are some of the ways you can start stepping away from them in order to carve your own path to success.
1. Life isn’t one path. It’s one big zig-zag.
“You’re always winging it”. No one ever really knows what they’re doing. The unexpected happens. People change, and so might you. Find your passions. Do what makes you happy.
2. “You can’t change what life throws at you, but you can always change the way you see it and how you respond to it.”
Make a bad situation, a good situation. Change your mindset. Think and focus on the positive. You can only change yourself before changing others.
3. Speak up.
If someone is making insensitive or disrespectful comments use your voice, challenge them, stand up for what is right.
4. Put yourself in society’s shoes.
Listen to what others have to say, try to understand from their point of view, and figure out how you want to determine it.
5. “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.
Keep being curious, don’t let what people say can’t be done stop you. Think outside the box. Take risks and make that leap of faith because it is better to aim high than to aim low.
6. Stop caring about what others think about you. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Ask yourself ‘What if?’ Just imagine, ‘What if I created the next million dollar company?’ or it could be something small such as, ‘What if I did not procrastinate, studied ahead for the next test?’ There will be endless possibilities that fill your mind. All it takes is courage and a leap of faith.
Overall, a very significant norm expressed through society is societal success. Our society generally determines one’s success based on their financial wellbeing. Societal success may be the reason why so many Asian parents often want their children to be a doctor and that is because doctors make good money. They’re hard and strict towards their children because this is their way of preparing them for society. They don’t want their children to face the same experiences they did. Most often, Asian immigrant parents want the best for their children because, like many immigrants who first came to America, it was rough. Many came with little or no money in their pockets, worked several jobs, actively faced racism, and were looked down upon because of their skin, culture, or their low income. Societal success may be classified as another social norm, and it’s when society judges you solely based on how successful you are. Unfortunately, that is the way society is.
But, what if you don’t want to become a doctor? What if you wanted to follow your passions and dreams? We strive to meet the expectations of others before thinking about ourselves. It’s so easy for society to trap us in a box. We begin closing our real selves in because we’re afraid we won’t be accepted.
However, success can only be determined by you and what you define as success. Success may be the satisfaction of reaching your goals or doing what makes you happy. It can be whatever you perceive as success.
Nevertheless, because of the changes made by changemakers in history and the major effects of youth activism, our current generation is more open than the past. We can listen to our parents’ experiences and understand their perspectives. Furthermore, we can accept that things are different than before. Our generation is more capable of achieving our goals because of technological advantages and being a part of a much more accepting society. Altogether, by stepping away from societal norms, we can carve our own path to success.
Cover Photo by Simon Shim on Unsplash
1. Hollis, Rachel. Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals. Illustrated, Harpercollins Leadership, 2019.
2. Liddle, Sarah. “10 Reasons Why Following Social Norms Is Actually Destroying Your Life.” Thought Catalog, 10 Feb. 2016, thoughtcatalog.com/sarah-liddle/2016/02/10-reasons-why-following-social-norms-is-actually-destroying-your-life/.
3. Mission, Soul. “Stepping Outside the Norm and Following Your Own Path.” The Center for Transformational Presence, 15 May 2017, transformationalpresence.org/alan-seale-blog/stepping-outside-norm-following-path/.
4. Tedx Talks.“The Age of Breaking Social Norms.” YouTube, uploaded by Shana Xia, 6 Dec. 2019, youtu.be/zTbs31KemJ8.
5. Tedx Talks. “Defying Social Norms.” YouTube, uploaded by Linh Do, 9 Nov. 2010, youtu.be/32GPv32hkHE3.