Lately I've been thinking a lot about the barriers that we create for ourselves as we go through life. Most of them aren't our fault - we learn them as we grow up. But more nefarious is the fact that we don't just learn them; we're taught them. Society seems designed to constrain our lives into neat little boxes, and the more that I've come to realize this, the more I want to shout at the top of my lungs and tell everyone that the boxes aren't real. They're imaginary, and if you don't want to spend your life constrained to one of these nice little boxes, you don't have to.
But it's up to you, and no one else.
Yesterday, in Korean class, our reading of the day was a letter from a student to one of his old teachers, about the day when his teacher told them that everyone has a special talent. That day resonated in the student's mind, because at the time, he said that he had no dream. Hearing someone simply tell him that he wasn't destined to be a dreamless wanderer changed his perspective enough that he actively sought out his dream, ultimately finding a fulfilling career and life. Of course, the ironies of this appearing in a Korean textbook are simply overwhelming, but disregarding that, we started talking about our dreams. Our teacher said, "Lately, more and more people in Korea are starting to have the dream of becoming teachers." It seemed like a suspect statement*, so I asked why, and she said, "Well, teaching is a stable profession. So it's more that they give up their dreams in order to do something stable."
What. The. Fuck.
Since I'm the oldest one in my class by nearly a decade, and also the only one who pays attention to what people are actually saying, I was a bit taken aback. But I'm fascinated by what drives people - everyone, everyone has something interesting about themselves, and you often just merely have to ask to find out.
So I asked my teacher: "선생님, 꿈이 뭐예요?" Teacher, what's your dream? She started telling us how she used to dream of being an artist. When she was younger, she even held galleries and exhibitions of her art. But then, as she got older, her dream "disappeared". As she was talking about her art, I could see the twinkle in her eyes. And when she told us, perhaps to convince herself, that her dream had simply "gone away", I could see the pain.
Dreams don't die. They might wither, they might change, but they never completely disappear. The point of this is not that being an artist is a better career than being a teacher, or that my teacher made a wrong decision. No. It's that the reason she made her decision was because she believed she was supposed to. Everywhere we turn, we're deluged with people telling us what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to major in something "useful". We're supposed to get a good job to pay the bills. We're supposed to get married by a certain age. We're supposed to find value in the same things that society, especially media, values. We're supposed to do all these things without questioning why we're doing them, and it's supposed to lead to a better life.
Look, happiness and fulfillment in life are no one's responsibility but your own. Society tells you to be a certain way because it's the way society maintains its own stability. It comes down to the following: do you want society to be in control of your life, or do you want to have a say?
The barriers we create for ourselves are mental barriers. First we need to acknowledge that they're there. And then we need to see them for what they are - shackles holding us back.
Life is out there for the taking. Live life. Don't let life live you.
* I happen to believe that teaching is an extremely noble profession, and I only wish more educated people would become teachers.