As humans, we are always growing, whether it is physical maturation or mental or emotional. We are always on the path of progress, for ourselves and for society. Abraham Maslow, a 20th century psychologist, boldly stated in his hierarchy of needs that the ultimate maturation phase is the acquisition of self-actualization, a stage where we feel like we have achieved to our fullest potential and are in harmony with the world we live in. Psychologist Erik Erickson then stated that once we hit old age, we are in a mental conflict between despair and integrity, where we look back at our lives and decide whether those 60 or so years were worth it. Did we lead the life we wanted, or were we dictated by the words of others?
Society has lain out a discrete path for the seeds of future, one which it claims will ultimately lead us to be happy, successful, and in place with the world. There is a set sequence of event intact: elementary school, middle school, high school, Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, marriage, a professional degree, and the then a well-paying, permanent job in a wealthy company from which you occasionally excuse yourself to play golf and engage in other mind-numbing activities. You send your kids the same way, hit 65, retire, and spend the rest of your life reading books and traveling with your spouse. On the way, we may want to stray ourselves from this concrete path, whether it is in the urge to run away from home during our adolescent years or whether it is in the temptation to entertain a mistress in our 40s and 50s, something psychologists label the "midlife-crisis." Whatever the case, we decide for ourselves that we better stick to the original plan, as it is what society expects from us and something that is considered a "normal" life.
However, such a path may not be in harmony with what we want. While many have spend a "normal" life and managed to fulfill their deepest longings, like Mohammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank for the poor with his knowledge about economics, others of us feel like life as it is is not what we want, that there are other things we would rather pursue. Instead of going to college, we may want to take a hike through Tibet and Southern China. Instead of a bachelor's degree in History, we may be interested in joining a theater group and initiating an acting career. Instead of a nuclear family, we may want an unmarried life. And instead of retiring at 65, we may want to work till the day we die. However, such things are not what society considers "appropriate" for a life in the 21st century. These are choices out of the ordinary and with a negative connotation. As a result, most of us keep away from making these "ridiculous" and "unacceptable" ways.
However, very clearly, pushing away the dreams that we would be happy stops us from achieving that sense of accomplishment Maslow talked about. Always having this hunch that maybe I should have made choices based on what I want instead of what others want to see will carry on to disturb us in our old age and push us to look back at our lives with despair. When we reach the end of our lives, we feel regret and a sense of loss for a whole life that we could not control.
Then, if we are well-aware of the consequences of our choices, why do we still make then? Why do we choose to live by society, by others, and not by ourselves? Why do values like "follow your heart" and "chase after your dreams" meaning nothing after a certain point where we decide to do as society tells us? The answer lies in our everlasting search for stability and security.
Evolutionary psychology has led us to understand that there are certain characteristics women, especially, search for in men with whom they wish to share a long-term commitment: financial stability, high social status, and industrious characteristics. This in itself shows that women seek for assurance and solidness in life. Men, too, have certain demands, as explained by evolutionary psychology. They seek for healthy-looking women whom they can rely on to pass on their survival genes. This, too, indicates a search for guarantee that has helped our species survive and develop this long.
While this is the psychological explanation, even when we just simply think about leaving the lives society has assigned behind, we tend to get anxious and insecure. How will I earn a living if I don't get that degree? What will I do after my traveling is over? How will I survive my old age without a partner? These questions and their possible answers are what keep us in society's grip. They scare us. Instead of choosing this unsure, mysterious path along which we would have to improvise as we go, we feel more at ease in choosing a path that in its appearance seems solid and sure. And likewise, we compromise our dreamlike ambitions for something more solid and comforting.