I guess it starts in high school: work hard, have a few afterschool activities for college, go to college, even if that means taking on debt. Everyone knows you MUST go to college to be successful, right? (And they don’t mean community or technical college. Pssh.) Then get a good job, and do what you have to to keep up with your peers. Even if that means credit cards. After all, you need to build your credit score, right? And it’s not like they taught you money management in school.
You work your ass off. You work the long hours, making sure they see you be the first one in and the last one out. You volunteer for every committee and extra assignment. You absorb everything. Work ethic, activities, maybe a little politics. You do move up, eventually. You get where you want, the title you want, you pay off those credit cards from your 20s.
Somewhere in there you get stuck (and maybe un-stuck) in some relationships. Some people make it out without the marriage/divorce merry-go-round, some don’t. Sometime later you either meet the right one or become self-sufficient.
Now you’re stable, putting away some savings (or you could if you really tried) and some retirement. You’ve got the title you wanted, or maybe you’ve realized you never will. But you’ve reached that place. The work isn’t hard any more, not a challenge. You have all those things that people want: vacations, nice stuff in a nice place, investments. You’re … comfortable.
Except you’re not. That’s just what people say. You’ve been loyal to a company that proves in the end it doesn’t care about you (at least once), isn’t headed in the direction you want to go, or you just can’t see yourself still doing THIS in ten or twenty more years.
If you wait long enough, that feeling gets worse. You’re resentful. You’re restless. Even if everything else is great. You may even actually love your spouse. Or you don’t. You might feel trapped by your spouse, your kids, your friend group that is so basic. You feel inauthentic. You feel lonely. You feel angry.
Why did you buy into this system? College? Is that really the only way to be a successful functioning adult? Are you really this corporate? You begin to realize you’re not quite a city mouse, and suburbia is just irritating in its homogeneity, its false values (lawn maintenance, FFS!), its just-for-show-ness.
You start thinking about all those extracurriculars and electives you took for fun, but could never be considered serious pursuits. Or maybe you start to wonder about things you’ve never considered before. You become desperate to learn a new language or skill. Those things you were never brave enough to try. Or those things you used to look down on, things you wouldn’t have been caught dead doing in your rush to escape your small hometown. You don’t know what you want, but you know there’s something more for you.