“And how exactly does that benefit people?” was my doctor’s smug answer, his smirk growing with every word, when he asked what I did for a living and I replied with something that starts with “Youtube” and ends with “music”.
No, this wasn’t a therapist, so no, he did not have any professional right to comment on – and judge – my career path. And my lifestyle. And even my helix piercing (a very common one, might I add).
It’s an unfortunate disadvantage when your identity in others’ eyes is reduced to the personal paths you decide to take. Suddenly, you’re not you, with all your glories and imperfections and quirks and pet peeves. Instead, you’re a label; often one that is easy to judge and knock down. You’re “the vegan”. You’re “the tree hugger”. You’re “the car fanatic”. You’re “the data science geek”. You’re “the theatre major”. You’re “the single mum”. You’re “the quitter”.
But being reduced to a label means that you also become the face of your decision. You turn into the defender of the title. You become paralysed in your attempts to explore more, to be more. The conversations you have with others become less about your interests or your adventures, and instead take the direction of police interrogations masked behind friendly coffee shop catch-ups and conversations over dinner. You’re questioned and questioned until you crack. You’re mocked and prodded and expected to keep a smile plastered on your face. You’re expected to stay aggressively moderate in your answers – “I’m not that kind of vegan!!” – God forbid you let it slip that you’re actually passionate about your choices.
In her book, The Defining Decade, psychologist and author Meg Jay talks about how your weak ties push you to explore your own ideas and beliefs in ways that your closest friends and families don’t, because you often have to explain your thoughts to them more coherently. But what happens when your entire society, including your closest ties, aren’t on board with your choices, two, five, or even ten years down the line? What if you’re always justifying?
(Well, if you’re anything like me, you end up with an outrageously tensed neck that leads to you fainting and falling to the ground like a sack of potatoes… often. Don’t try this at home, kids).
So, yes, it took every living cell in my body not to roll my eyes at my doctor’s archaic response to my career choice. It took every inch of my tensed neck and clenched jaw and pulsating forehead vein to bite my tongue and give a weak laugh in return. And it suddenly struck me: I’ve been exercising that skill a little too often for my liking.
And maybe I shouldn’t be, when the world around me freely lets their tongue go rambling off in fits of judgement over my choices and beliefs. When caring about the environment becomes the lunchtime joke, why should I smile and nod, turning it into a joke in the desperate hopes of steering the conversation away from what would turn into a “lecture” that falls on deaf ears? When my career is seen as too frivolous to warrant a simple “how was your day?” at the dinner table, why should I laugh along at jokes about how I’ve gone from journalist to “DJ”*? When a hurtful racist joke is said in my presence, why should I brush it off like it didn’t cut deep beneath my, evidently, less beautiful darker skin?
The real question here, one that will surely remain unanswered, is: what happened to “Live and Let Live”?
Maybe the world should be a little more careful with opinions made, and voiced, about one another’s choices. Maybe the world should keep destructive comments in ignorant little heads. Maybe, just maybe, the world should live and let live.
Remember: having opinions about everyone’s lives doesn’t make you clever, it just turns you into a dickhead.
*Seriously, mum, I’m not a DJ.