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Expect to Live the Life You Choose

There was one other thing about Me Before You that struck me (beyond it being an exact copy of another book), and that was a line that came on page 260:

“Everything takes time… and that’s something that your generation find it a lot harder to adjust to. You have all grown up expecting things to go your way almost instantaneously. You all expect to live the lives you chose.”

Which made me ask… was there ever a generation that didn’t have expectations?  That didn’t strive for goals and become disappointed when their goals were thwarted?  I mean… it’s sort of a dick thing to say, right, beyond painting an entire generation of people with a single brush.  Let’s just admit that we all have a fairly skewed lens through which we view other generations or races or ethnicities or religions… choose your group.

But taking that quote as truth, the question remains whether it would be better to teach kids to have no expectations.  Because once you have expectations and goals, you have potential disappointments.  You have the fact that things may not go your way, you may not achieve your goal.  Would it be better to tell kids to drift?  To not imagine their future?  To let go of all material objects or desires for good health, and to simply go along with things as they unfold, accept whatever happens, and just… be.

Really?  There were generations that did that?


Even more dickish, the line is said about a person who is mourning their current state in life — paralysis — in comparison to the life they thought they would live — non-disabled.  That’s a fairly huge change being discussed by someone who has not gone through a fairly huge change.  Who always thought that she would be non-disabled (as I think most people do who are born non-disabled) and has continued to be non-disabled.

No one is guaranteed health and wellness, just as no one is guaranteed an easy pregnancy and delivery despite it being the norm.  But how would it ever be helpful for someone who has achieved three easy pregnancies to sit down next to an infertile woman and say, “snap out of it!  So it’s not going your way.  You need to learn to live with it!”  I mean, yes, that is said on a daily basis.  But really, how is it helpful?

No one is denying the validity of the statement.  We all do need to learn to live with things, but berating someone isn’t the way to go about helping that person come to a place of understanding and acceptance.

I couldn’t believe this character wasn’t punted across the room.  That her words were meant to be astute, an important point to change the way the other characters were seeing their situation.  The character who speaks these words is described in only the most glowing of terms.  If I had been at the party, I would have made given her the look.


There is no way to teach resilience.

I mean, that’s like trying to teach Spanish out of a textbook for an hour five times per week.  You aren’t going to get a fluent Spanish speaker if you approach the language in this manner, and you’re not going to get a resilient child if you talk to them about resilience while they’re in a place of comfort.

Resilience needs to come from experience; from having the unexpected take place and adjusting.  Or not adjusting.  One path is obviously the more desired path, but not everyone will reach the desired path.  Not everyone can get themselves to a place of acceptance.  And that is okay, too.  Maybe a lack of acceptance is what they need to fuel their fire.  Maybe not feeling settled with the status quo drives them to keep working towards a new goal.  I don’t know.  I can’t speak to anyone else’s process.

I don’t know anyone who grew up expecting everything to go their way almost instantaneously.  We were perhaps taught that if we could achieve a lot if we put out a great effort, and we chose to transfer that idea to situations outside our control.  What works when it comes to a classroom exam doesn’t work when it comes to life events such as marriage or parenthood.

But I can’t say that it’s a bad thing to expect to live the life you choose.  To imagine a life and try to get there.


1 a { 12.17.14 at 9:18 am }

Maybe you’re from a family that’s too youthful? Because in my grandparents’ generations, external forces drove a lot of how your life went. There were fewer choices – my aunts all went to teacher’s college…not because they wanted to be teachers (or were teachers), but because that was the option made available to them. My mom had the option of…getting a job after high school, because working was more important in her family than education. So, I can sort of see the point – we have a lot more choices these days. And we’re sort of blind to that.

2 Mel { 12.17.14 at 9:27 am }

But that is still living the life you expected, albeit with that generation’s expectations vs. 2014 expectations. They still expected to get married, have kids, have a home. Those are all expectations, and they would be surprised/disappointed if life didn’t go with the plan in their head. We have more choices today, but that doesn’t mean that we have more expectations. We just have varied expectations; personalized expectations.

3 a { 12.17.14 at 10:03 am }

But I guess the point is with fewer choices (and many more things that were taboo), the expectation of disappointment is greater? I mean, if you have Option A and Option B and neither of them really appeal, are you really choosing? (Doesn’t this go back to a post you had about choices recently?) Now, you have Options A through Z each with subparts…so it probably appears to someone of a much earlier generation that your choices are endless, and if something is disappointing…well, you just choose again.

4 earthandink { 12.17.14 at 10:09 am }

Resilience is actually in the running to be my WOTY (the other one is empower). I’m still not sure …

Anyway, I just wanted to say that there are ways to teach resilience. There are skills to help a child (or anyone) develop that will help them be more resilient. http://teaching.monster.com/stem_teachers/articles/8860-teaching-resilience-can-prevent-depression-improve-grades

Also, story-telling actually helps children be more resilient. So, I would suspect, there is a corollary between being a reader and being resilient. (I have no proof other than personal and anecdotal on this.) When that poor child who lost her family to a shooting talked about Dumbledore, she was finding a way to be resilient because she had been taught it by Harry Potter.

Learning Spanish from a phrase book may not make you fluent, but it will definitely help you find the restrooms when in Spain. 😉 At any rate, resilience and learning to be better at it is something I’m heavily focused on right now. So I hope it’s okay that I shared some of my research.

5 nicoleandmaggie { 12.17.14 at 10:21 am }

This kind of thing may be why I read so little “worthy” fiction. In my general reading, such lines usually come from characters who in some way take their literary inspiration from Mr. Collinses and other fools.

6 fifi { 12.17.14 at 10:59 am }

Here’s an interesting book review about a generation of women who had certain expectations (marriage and children) that didn’t work out because of external circumstances (war):

So, no, we’re not the first generation to have expectations or to have those expectations shattered by reality.

Instead of being compassionate, it seems that society condemned these “surplus women” for their inability to attract a mate and the necessity for them to earn their own livings. Plus ca change.

7 Paula { 12.17.14 at 12:44 pm }

Resilience can certainly be taught. Its application comes via experience, for sure, but we learn resilience (or its lack) from the time we’re born. Seeing our parents and other significant people in our lives handle their lives certainly teaches us–if my parents collapse during times of stress, odds are I will too; if they persevere, likewise. It’s not absolute, but it’s a good predictor.

8 Mel { 12.17.14 at 12:48 pm }

I think the basic concept of resilience can be taught, just like basic Spanish can be taught out of a textbook. But the reality is that we don’t really know if we have resilience until we have to use it. Until we’re put in an awful situation and need to exist in it. Just as I think we never know exactly how we’ll feel or how we’ll react when the unfathomable happens, I think it’s impossible (and possibly even a tad unhealthy) to prepare. I mean, there is only so much we can predict; do we really want to live our lives preparing for what we consider to be our worst situations — by which I mean, mentally preparing in the form of resilience.

9 Paula { 12.17.14 at 1:34 pm }

Of course not; we don’t a lot about ourselves until we’re faced with situations that require us to perform (or not) in particular ways. There is no way to know how we will feel/what we will do in given situations, but that isn’t the basis of resilience. The general, basic sense that whatever happens, we can survive it, is what I see as its basis.

10 Paula { 12.17.14 at 1:37 pm }

Ooops–meant that that there a lot of things we don’t know about ourselves, but left out some words.

11 Mel { 12.17.14 at 1:46 pm }

That’s the hope I cling to — that I have unknown wells of resilience 🙂

12 Cristy { 12.17.14 at 2:43 pm }

I agree with you that resilience is something that is best learned during moments of failure. But this post is also timely because I have colleagues who are terribly frustrated because their students don’t even know how to fail. One of the hallmarks of Millennials is that they had helicopter parents. This helicoptering, though done with the best of intentions, has resulted in a generation of young adults who expect instant gratification, to be given exactly what they desire and struggle with not being rewarded for simply showing up. I’ve witnessed this first hand this week and have already fielded a couple of phone calls from parents (my students are college age) about changing grades simply because their children felt they deserved better.

Yes, it is dickish to give someone a pep-talk for something you clearly have zero understanding of. But we’re also experiencing the negative consequences of having zero experience with failure. To not learn early how to pick yourself up and try again.

13 Sharon { 12.17.14 at 5:14 pm }

I do think that, to a certain degree, having expectations and goals for our lives is peculiar to our society, if not simply to recent generations. My paternal grandmother was born in 1903 in (pre-free state) Ireland and lived with us from the time I was a baby until she died when I was 17. She and I had many conversations about her (long) life–she died at age 85–and based on those conversations, I think that she was much more accepting of whatever life sent her way, without having particular expectations of what that might be. She didn’t even take marriage and children as givens, although both things came to pass for her.

She lived her life with the thought that whatever happened to her was G-d’s will and that she would need to learn to accept it, whatever it was. She was grateful for her family but I believe would also have found fulfillment/contentment in other things if marriage and children had not been part of G-d’s plan for her.

14 Justine { 12.17.14 at 9:33 pm }

While I think the comment at this particular fictional party, given the character to whom it was directed, was in poor taste, I do understand where it’s coming from. There’s a sense of entitlement in many young people today: they’ve been told all along that they can have anything, do anything, be anything. But many of them can’t. And they don’t have the ability to imagine differently, to adjust, to be flexible. They want you to fix things for them so that they don’t have to deal with disappointment. Which seems to me a little unrealistic.

It’s along the lines of the ‘having it all’ question. We’ve told young women for so long that they can have it all. But is it a lie? Or is it even a lie in the way they interpret it, as an all-encompassing “all,” rather than the “all” we’ve come to understand is measured by our own (better informed) definition of success?

15 Mel { 12.18.14 at 9:13 am }

But y’all know that studies have been done that show that every generation is more or less the same: http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamthierer/2012/01/08/why-do-we-always-sell-the-next-generation-short/

A quote: “And so it goes generation after generation. Not only does every generation have its doubts about the younger generation and their new technologies and forms of culture, but they often predict a sort of apocalyptic “end of history.” In 1948, for example, the poet T. S. Eliot declared, “We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity.” Such prophecies of doom proved unwarranted, of course, and today we celebrate countless post-war cultural and technological achievements.

This begs the question: Why is it that we always sell future generations short when history shows us that there is cause for optimism?”

16 Mel { 12.18.14 at 9:14 am }

There’s even a word for the bashing of the younger generation: juvenoia


17 deathstar { 12.18.14 at 11:09 am }

The way I expected to live my life changed at various ages in my life. When I was 11 I believed anything was possible. When I was 18, I thought anything was possible if only I followed my heart. When I was 29, I thought anything was possible if you were white and American (see the success stories of any talentless boob job actress) and by the time infertility was done with me, I was happy to just be able to afford a Starbucks coffee. Oprah kept telling me to just do what I love and the money will follow, the Secret told me to just see it, say it and believe it, and blahdiblah……. Every generation has their expectations and it certainly does depend on who you parents are and what kind of life they lived. Resilience is earned, and there’s nothing life handing you a bag of hammers to awaken you to your weaknesses. As for the younger generation being expected to get what they want by doing very little, well, where did they get those messages?

18 fifi { 12.18.14 at 11:36 am }

I came of age hearing that us Generation X-ers were “slackers”. Now I’m hearing how the Millennials are “entitled”, and it does seem very familiar.

19 Mali { 12.18.14 at 10:14 pm }

I think expectations very much depend on how you are raised, in what culture, whether you are surrounded by money and material things and people who place importance on those (or education or children or whatever too), leading you to expect a life that might in the end not be possible. My nephew told his parents he expected to go to one of the top ten universities in the world. When they told him that might be a bit much, he reduced his expectations to one of the top 20! I grew up as the first member of my family to go to university. It was something new and exciting and never taken for granted, and I never had expectations that I would go to the best university. Any university at all would be good. Whereas my husband and his brothers and my sisters-in-law and friends all had parents or older siblings who went to university and had professional careers, and their expectations about education and career were all very different to mine. They took it for granted – assumed all would be well – in a way I never did.

My niece and nephews too expect never to have money problems, because they’ve never had them, never see parents or aunts/uncles with problems. Yet their parents had very different expectations, because they were raised differently, in a different time. They have different behaviours too (not better, not worse) – the same nephew who wanted to go to a top 10 university was prepared to give his Christmas gift/money to his sister, because there was nothing he really wanted. His father, raised with three brothers and scarce resources, couldn’t believe his son would do that, thinking back to the fierce competition he had with his brothers. “Scarcity creates competition,” I said my quite bemused sister-in-law. She’s from a different culture too – and so has very different expectations about certain parts of life than her husband. But she and I are much more similar than my husband and her husband, so it’s not just a cultural thing, but also a personality/family culture issue. Odd that a woman raised in rural New Zealand has more in common in terms of values etc with a woman raised in urban Asia, than men raised in a suburb in my own country.

I too can say, even though I wan’t raised with money, that my upbringing and expectations were very different than those of my parents, who were born just before or during the Great Depression, and knew and understood true need. Likewise, as a woman, my expectations about my career were very different from my mother or mother-in-law. My mother-in-law thought I was “entitled” when I insisted on having a career. I can see her point. And my nieces’ expectations are different again. It doesn’t mean these expectations are bad.

Lots of food for thought here, Mel, so I’d better stop thinking aloud!

20 Karen (River Run Dry) { 12.19.14 at 6:32 am }

I have been thinking about this post since I read it last morning. I didn’t read the book, so I don’t quite understand the context of the quote, but I would agree that absolutely everyone expects to lead the life they choose, no matter who you are.

You DO choose the life you life. You choose your external environment: you career, partner, house. To a large extent, you also choose your internal environment too: your thoughts and mind’s narrative – and how it affects your emotional landscape.

And yes, it’s the bumps in the road – the issues you have in GETTING that life you wanted – that is what teaches wisdom.

But you still get to choose. Like infertility. I actually still have choices as it relates to bringing home a second child, but they were not acceptable to me. We have one child. Which was our choice.

I can’t see how anyone could think any other way. Resilience is earned, yes, but through making the tough choices.

I’m clearly getting one side only of the argument, not having read the book, so I’ll stop here and just remark that I absolutely believe you live the life you choose. Even when you don’t REALIZE you are choosing, you are choosing.


(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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