Great Expectations

I have been in Madrid for all of two months now and have learnt some valuable lessons. Namely that life doesn’t turn out the way you expect or want. This seems to be a recurring theme not just in my life but in popular culture as well.

I recently watched ‘The Switch’ – a typical rom-com which, being the offspring of Hollywood, ended in a marriage proposal between the two main characters. Yet what set this film apart from the thousands of other rom-coms that clog up the box office was that this proposal did not come at the socially ideal age of around 30, it did not come before kids or after a promotion at work. It came instead after ten years of denial, misery and passivity. The key point the film made was that life is not like in Hollywood where you say the right thing at the right time and everything works out the way it’s planned to but that “it’s complicated, it’s messy. It’s about horrible timing, and fumbled opportunities.”

I have stumbled upon the same theme in the past two books I have recently read. One character spent most of the book trying to do as little as possible with life in order to avoid living it and having to face the reality of its disappointment. Another character not only had a similar problem but was also reluctant to propose to his girlfriend because he didn’t feel that so-often-talked-of-perfection that is supposed to accompany a couple and a relationship of a certain age. One may attribute this to a typical male fear of commitment but I found myself worrying about the same feeling. It seems as though myself and the media world are questioning the same fairy tale’s reality.

The process of turning 21 combined with my move to Europe has changed a lot about my attitude to life. There’s still plenty of time to decide on a career, a husband and a purpose in life and yet I’ve a sneaking suspicion I will still be deciding when I’m 30. I’m frequently told by, in my opinion, very successful and settled adults (yes, I still feel there is a distinction between myself and “the grown-ups”) that they still don’t know what they want to do with their life.

It is finally being admitted that to have even decided upon a career choice let alone gained experience in it by the time we enter our twenties or even thirties is unrealistic. ‘Career flipping’ is becoming much more common. The increasing presence of silvery haired heads in my lecture theatres provides ample proof. An article I read recently by Jane Fallon explored this new phenomenon, stating that an increasing number of people in their thirties are doing a career U-turn. The job they thought they wanted no longer satisfies them (or never did) and so people are returning to university, setting up new businesses and returning to square one. It is no longer viewed as a failure but as a brave act of moving forward to jump off the ladder one has spent years climbing and begin at the bottom of another. It is becoming more acceptable to be indecisive, to change your mind and to take a few steps back in order to explore a different path.

If even the creators of the “Cinderella Story” are beginning to question what we are supposed to expect from life then maybe it’s time to ignore that pang of guilt, anxiety or fear that prevents us from straying too far from the “established plan”. Perhaps now is the time to think about what we want, not what we’re told we need and to start living life with a little more spontaneity – if Hollywood’s doing it then so can we.

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