There are many unspoken rules that surround us in society. These unspoken customs and judgments are not something that many of us spend time thinking about.
But they exist just as surely as the highways we drive on and the clothes we wear.
The social values and narratives that influence us have been changing a lot in the past several decades.
But the judgments and pressures that envelop us are stronger than ever, even if they are manifesting in different ways.
Here are the social judgments that surround us. Are you falling in line or living your own life?
1) Seek success
All around us there is a constant message blaring: be successful!
Questions naturally arise…
What exactly is success and how can we measure it?
There are plenty of institutions, media outlets, educational curricula and authority figures who are ready to tell us exactly what success is and what we should devote our life to.
Success is about being confident and prosperous, finding love, success is about being happy. Supposedly.
These are all judgments that surround us.
They are also very often based on how others perceive us rather than on how we perceive and relate to ourselves.
2) Be something
We are all told that we must be “something” and that the worst thing is to remain in-between, undefined, unsure.
This “something” we’re supposed to be is, of course, a floating signifier and the goalposts can be moved at any time.
We must have a certain career, we must play a certain role, we must have a certain psychological state or set of beliefs.
We must be something to someone or even to ourselves.
This provides endless fodder for our ego to become identified with temporary labels and attachments which lead us off straight from finding out who we really are and what we really love.
3) Embrace progress
The only constant in life is change. This is true.
However the word “progress” is much more loaded.
Colonial and materialistic mindsets have long clung to the concept of progress and growth as cornerstones of the meaning of life.
In more industrial times progress meant economic production and prosperity, whereas in modern times it is also deeply tied to ideological concepts of cultural and social advancement and “open-mindedness.”
If you are able to make up your own mind about what progress means to you and to resist the siren song of constantly needing to be something more, better, or “purer” then you’ve dodged this trap.
4) Please others
Many of us live in modern societies where being liked and pleasing others is highly prized.
If somebody is upset at us or does not give us a like, we are distressed. What did I do wrong? What can I do differently in order to obtain the approval or like of this person?
It’s certainly even worse that many of us are raised by parents who ration their affection and approval to us based on how much we earn.
This creates the inner people pleaser from a young age, be set by a sense that they are not good enough and forever chasing the final stamp of approval that will prove they are.
Religion, the economy, corporate structure, and relationships with toxic individuals all serve to reinforce this horrible sense of inner insufficiency if it is not addressed.
If you can escape the trap of people pleasing, then you are living your own life, not just a Sisyphian climb for perfection.
5) Be well liked
Being well liked ties into the previous point as well.
Many of us feel increasingly lonely in a society run by technology and automated systems.
We want to fit into whatever we imagine is the consensus or the comfortable middle zone where we will be seen as easy going, approachable and likable.
The irony is that in trying so hard to be liked and worrying what others think of us, we often neglect to work on our relationship with ourselves and put aside actionable steps to improve our own life.
6) Post your wins
The ubiquity of social media is much more powerful than many people realize, even now.
If you are someone who has sidestepped social media, you can still be sucked into it through friends or events you attend.
The basic instinct is to demonstrate and show our life as much or perhaps even more than we actually live it.
The result, in a way, is to steal our soul.
Every great victory and milestone must be commemorated with a post. Every profound thought and realization needs an Instagram caption. Does this sound like you?
If not, you’re on the right track…
7) You must be more independent
One of the big shifts which has taken place in the past few decades, albeit at which did not just start in the last few decades, is the push for people to become more independent.
This seems to have coincided with the growing trend of autonomous careers and the growing role of technology. Rather than past ages which have favored tribalism and group conformity to a set ideology, the current age is constantly asking people to be less attached to others and less attached to ideology.
The result, rather than transcendent emotional freedom and joy, is record-level mental health problems and a massive loneliness epidemic.
8) Be part of a unique herd
The new group conformity is all about being independent the same way as other people.
This paradox sounds comical and in a way it is.
But the sad thing is that people are so focused on being different together that the bridges they can build in common are becoming less and less.
If you are able to be part of a group and genuinely share commonality with that group, then this is a modern malady which you are overcoming and sidestepping.
You are living your own life, not just a Sisyphian climb for perfection.
9) Overcome your negative emotions
The majority of modern societies have become highly fixated on the idea of overcoming negative emotions.
While some have described this as a step forward in the right direction or pushing back against toxic masculinity, the reality of this sensitivity shift is actually much darker.
Rather than overcoming judgmental, binary conceptions of emotions, this is just locking us in an even more restrictive spiral.
This is a situation in which many New Age people have become their own jailer, repressing and pushing down their thoughts and emotions which they judge as invalid or negative.
This thereby creates a dissociated false and toxically positive version of themselves which makes the world a noticeably worse and more boring place.
10) It’s important that people validate your appearance
There is a lot of social pressure to care about looks and be attractive.
As more and more mass media outlets claim to embrace body positivity and stand against things like fat shaming, they are actually just making us even more focused on issues like weight, appearance and perception of appearance.
Rather than society moving past appearance, we are simply constantly being asked to analyze and judge what we should or should not find attractive.
The overemphasis on the subject itself is inherently toxic, as it makes people judge by appearance more and more.
11) Be friends with cool people
As much as the signifiers of what is high social status and cool may have shifted, the basic pressure to care about the signifiers remains.
We are all encouraged to spend time with and be friends with those who are cool, acceptable and high-value to others.
12) Leave people alone
The unspoken rules of modern society tell us to respect the privacy of others and leave them alone.
If you travel on public transport or walk in crowded places, many individuals are staring at their phone or wear headphones.
They are signaling intentionally or unintentionally that they do not wish to interact with you.
But many of the best friendships and connections I’ve made have been with people who I wasn’t sure wanted to interact, but turned out to be quite interested in talking once I started.
That’s why being overly respectful of people’s privacy can actually work against you and lead to further isolation.
“You do not initiate small talks with someone with their headphones on.”
13) Make sure you’re a good person
Society tells us that we have to be a “good person.”
But one of the most reliable indicators that somebody is not a good person is that they believe they are.
This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, which comes from a phenomenon where people routinely overestimate their own intelligence.
The same thing goes for virtue.
Individuals who tend to be more self-critical and skeptical of their own virtue are often better people in real life.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.