Turning 50: Life is a Social Construct

Life is a social construct—marriage, raising kids, traveling, gender roles, and more—all of it is made up. And guess what that means? Anything that is constructed, can be deconstructed: it can be torn apart and reconstructed.

In my observations, though, it seems that we are rarely taught this. Instead, we are born into a set of social rules, shamed if we think about them otherwise, and then pushed back into what are portrayed as cemented ways of being. But this isn’t reality. Reality is we can make up life anyway we desire. Re-constructing life requires choosing a social construct, thinking about what you actually value, unlearning the social construct, and then re-creating life based on your values, instead of those you were born into.

This is no easy feat, but it is possible. Here’s how:

CHOOSE A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT: Celebrating Christmas.

When I was growing up, my grandmother had one rule about holidays. She said her children and grandchild could spend any holiday wherever they wanted, but Christmas was for her. That was feasible enough when I was nearby. But what happened when my family and I moved a thousand miles south? Nothing. Nothing changed. Dwight and I packed up our children, bought winter clothes, packed gifts, and eventually our dog, and we drove every other year to have the Christmas my grandmother desired.


We did this for 17 years, until I thought about why I was doing it. One reason was because that’s what you do for the holidays…spend it with family. That’s what Hallmark says. That’s what commercials and Christmas movies show, and that’s what my grandmother had decreed. Another reason I spent my holiday on the road was because when I asked my grandmother if she would come to Florida for Christmas, she said I was being inconsiderate. Everyone in Chicago couldn’t come to my house, so I shouldn’t expect such a ridiculous thought.


So, I never asked again, but that 17th year, I decided I wasn’t driving there for Christmas until I felt like it. I decided to re-construct what Christmas meant for me. It didn’t mean driving up-and-down the interstate to appease others, while I grew ragged and overwhelmed. It meant creating new traditions with my family in our space. It was not easy. For the first few years, everyone in my family asked when I was coming home. No one ever asked when they could visit my family and me for a holiday. But that’s how social constructs work. When you break them, those steeped in the construct will try and push you back into the norm. However, it didn’t work. My family and I have celebrated at our home for a while now, and I feel much better because we have developed our own traditions, and as our daughters age, they will, too.

So, there’s a family example, but what happens when it’s a place that provides us with income, like work? Trust me, you can also re-create in your career.

When I began my current job, I received several pieces of advice. One person told me I should make my social media account private.

“How am I going to be a public writer, with a private social media?” I asked.

She didn’t have an answer, so I ignored this advice.

Another person told me I shouldn’t speak out about injustices, until I was tenured and had the security with which to do so.

That sounded hella silly, too, especially because I live with a keen awareness that we can die at any moment. I ignored this and published two essays in well-known anthologies about the ill feelings I had about being an affirmative-action hire in academia.

I almost talked myself out of starting this blog, due to the content. I wasn’t sure if my job would be jeopardized because I chose to write about the impact that childhood and adolescent trauma had on my adult life.

I ignored my own fears and so far, I’m still employed.

There are other lesser-known things that I’ve done, such as not being bogged down with what the education field likes to call “service” or attending superfluous meetings, simply to talk about things that could’ve been an email or digital presentation. Part of the reason I’ve been able to function this way is because I have a terminal degree in my field, and I’ve been in education for nearly three decades. I know the manipulative forces that are at play, and I know how to navigate them.

But the fact remains that even how a job is performed is a social construct that can be deconstructed and reconstructed, if only we’d think about what we value and how we can align that with the institution or company. I care about being an effective educator, so does my job. Everything else is negotiable.

Let me reiterate this point: Everything social is made up! And if you have the desire to deconstruct what you’ve learned, in hopes of re-creating something you value, then it can be done. You just have to make up your mind to do it.

I’m turning 50 on May 23rd, and I’m processing and documenting it here. Being on the earth for half a century, interacting with people, has taught me a few things, and I’ll be sharing them with you through June. Here are the first two:

Turning 50: Advice I’m No Longer Taking

Turning 50: The Relationship You Have with Yourself Matters Most


94 thoughts on “Turning 50: Life is a Social Construct

  1. A fabulous post Kathy. I’m more than a decade older than you but our birthdays fall in the same month only days apart, which I believe makes us both slightly stubborn. This post RESONATES strongly with me and it would take a girls weekend away to fully explain. I can say this, I married into a strong willed family, and tried very hard to fulfill all their social constructs because that’s the way I was raised. But it all came to a head in my fifties, when like you, I started prioritizing my own needs, with the needs of my family, and let me just say, it didn’t go well. I’m happier now but the fallout was, and still is, painful. I so appreciate you putting this message out into the world, maybe someone will see it, and figure it out earlier in life. Much love and hugs to you, C

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You must be days before my bday, if you’re a bit stubborn…are you a taurus???

      Listen, if you’re inviting me to the lake, then just say that…I’m there 🤣

      Seriously though, we never win when we try to fulfill everyone’s else’s constructs (but I understand being raised that way). It’s tough. Folks don’t like it when you start questioning why you did all of the things all of the time, and they damn sure don’t like it when you start to prioritize yourself.

      I’m also glad you get me. The sooner women, especially, can understand they can do their own thing, the better we’ll all be.


      1. Yeah , I just can’t see being that restricted . Like when I was looking for other dog grooming parlors that would be like your hair ( whatever color it would be blue , pink , multi) and it’s like that doesn’t scare the dogs . And most people usually like it lol . Same when I was working at the bakery .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Gem 4: “Everything social is made up! And if you have the desire to deconstruct what you’ve learned, in hopes of re-creating something you value, then it can be done. You just have to make up your mind to do it.”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Gem 3 that I totally connected with: “I almost talked myself out of starting this blog, due to the content. I wasn’t sure if my job would be jeopardized because I chose to write about the impact that childhood and adolescent trauma had on my adult life.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Nice one…demolishing what’s already being constructed within you it’s very challenging but at certain point in our lives constructing new values aligning with our current lifestyle is necessary despite what it might do to other close people like in your case with Christmas situation.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly. We forget that we each have our own journey. Sometimes, our journeys are interconnected with others, but that doesn’t mean it has to be lined with the same experiences and scenery 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely reading your post. I am deconstruction traditions in my own way and have been for sometime now.

    I understand how hard it is and my husband and I are finding our own way too.

    So inspiring reading your post and finding we are not alone in this effort.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. First, thank you so much for reading and commenting. It can be challenging, because in essence (depending on what we’re talking about), you’re going against years/decades/centuries of conditioning. Hang in there, though. It’s super liberating once you’re on the other side 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Already there K E Garland thanks 🙂

        It is so liberating and it has brought healthy habits to my family. For me, it has been a push against gender roles that don’t suit anymore. I think writing helps me work out solutions.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Happy Early Birthday!! I just turned 30 on February 28th and I resonate so much with this. I call this era of my life “My Next New Life” and I am doing this same thing! Thank you so much for sharing this. I look forward to this sort of series and reading your post. I hope your birthday is more than you could have ever imagined! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Michaela! And thank you for the early birthday wishes.

      Happy BELATED birthday to you 🥳

      The 30s are so fabulous. It’s like…you have much more sense than you did in your 20s, but you still have time to grow into so much more.


  7. Interesting, the idea that spending the holidays the way someone else expects us to weighs heavily until we don’t allow it to have that power any more. I made the choice to go with the flow until my first child was born which looking back was pretty early on to make the rules. I knew that everyone would want to spend holidays with a grandchild so I had the ability to make it happen. I’ve had a few other times when I “made the leap and the net appeared” so I guess sometimes you just have to believe.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for this comment, Laura! So, I’m glad you mentioned children. I thought I’d have some leverage with the girls, but what ended up happening is family learned that if I didn’t show up for Christmas with my daughters (and they didn’t visit), then they didn’t see them grow up.

      I really feel confident in the decision, and eventually, my grandmother began visiting at different times of the year, so she could lay eyes on everyone 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is good. I also ask myself “What do I *want* to do?” (Or alternatively what do *I* want to do?”) If I’m clear on my why and my want, it’s easier for me to figure out what to change.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Akilah! And thanks for adding this. The former English teacher in me (and current writer) totally understand both of these. These are great questions, and I’d add that it’s important to listen to your actual body response when we have the answer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, the body response is so important! I recently had a situation where doing it one way gave me a weird feeling in my stomach so I did it the way I thought was right and, boom! Weird stomach feeling went away.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. An Amazing Happy 50 dear kind wise friend!! I love and appreciate you bolster your perspective with your family examples – they are very relevant and make me think of my own. I agree literally everything we live is a made up social construct and making a conscious choice is our power. The more we exercise choice in following or changing one, more capacity we gain to change other difficult ones.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Pragalbha 💕

      I’m glad this resonated. And thank you for affirming what I know to be true…EVERYTHING is made up; we can always make a different choice that is outside of the so-called norm.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I LOVE this post! So many of my relatives (and my husband’s) are stuck in the “this is how we’ve always done it” and “this is who I am” mentality, and it drives me nuts. At some point, we need to be adults and figure out what works for us, and then do for it. Of course we fail sometimes, but eventually, we get to where we want to be. Ditto with careers…I wasn’t the least bit happy until I stopped trying for the type of job everyone else told me I was supposed to want. People really are capable of making changes in their social circumstances, I think. Our basic personalities may be static, but how we relate to other people and the world around us is not!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Ann! I know when “love” is in all caps you really, really mean it.

      “How we relate to other people and hte world around us is not!” Yes, indeed. I’m so glad this post resonated with you in such a personal way. We’re conditioned in many ways, and rarely, do we take the time to ask ourselves why we’re doing something in the first place.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I answered this in my head, instead of actually here lol

      Having read your poems, I can kind of understand how it would. We don’t discuss emotional abuse as much as we should; there are varied levels that go ignored.

      Thanks for leaving this comment, VJ 💕

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I remember when my 17 year marriage to my children’s father ended, I had not heard of emotional, financial, psychological abuse. I always told myself I was lucky he didn’t hit me. The pieces fell together quickly. You’re welcome, always

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Unfortunately, most punters experience those social contracts as enslavement; for example the worldwide imposition of mortgages lasting a lifetime, credit cards, divorce laws, abortion laws, etc. Deconstruction must start early in life before the system places a noose around your neck. Having had the foresight, I escaped into artistry, discarded ambition and choose none-possession; such a state of existence is only possible if one has overcome the paranoia about destitution.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Enslavement is the most accurate word, MC. We can become enslaved to all of the things you listed (and more), without even realizing it. The conditioning almost begins prior to leaving the womb, quite honestly.

      Kudos to you. It seems like artists are usually the ones to embrace life outside of a construct.

      Thanks, as always, for adding this comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I am so with you! I don’t like doing things just because that’s the way it has always been done. I am bucking the church construct now, continuing to attend church online with a church that feeds my soul and is encouraging, instead of doing what I have done for years, attending church in a building every week. It is surprising how many people have a negative attitude about attending church online instead of in-person. But I am doing what works for me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Kudos, Janet! This is all I’m saying. We all have the capability to stop and think about why we’re doing something, and then make a decision to either continue as is, or do something a little different. Thanks for sharing this ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Your post is so provocative, Katherin. Right away, my mind went to how my mother was a lot like your grandmother. Her holiday rules and black-and-white thinking pervaded my life. When I got married, I simply followed her path until I broke away in my mid 20s. But I realize now, that I still followed her rules while raising my own children. Now they are adults and have given me negative feedback about many of the rituals I did because of my mother’s wishes.
    My daughter is getting married this year and it’s so interesting for me to see how she is making her own decisions, unlike what I experienced. I am in awe of her ability to construct things the way she wants. I still fondly remember my mother with her best intentions, but I’m also glad that I have stepped back from asserting social constructs for my children. Expectations lead to disappointment, and I have learned to let them lead the way.

    All this wonderful reflection that you’re having upon turning 50 is fabulous. It doesn’t end. Turning 60 three years ago blew my mind. I’m wondering what’s 70 is going to bring, if I am so lucky!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m always astounded by the similarities in our lives, even though we’re a decade or so apart and live in different parts of the country.

      With that said, YES! Conditioning runs very deep, especially when we aren’t taught to question or be critical about what we’re doing. Then, we end up just repeating everything (or some parts), whether we intended to or not.

      “Expectations lead to disappointment” is so true. I’ve told my girls early on that I always want them to come around because they want to, not because they feel obligated to.

      Thank you for the compliment at the end! I cannot imagine what the next decade or so has in store. I’ll be looking at you to see what I can glean 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Happy 50th. I think we can learn what we think about everything and then we find out something that is completely different from what we knew of ourselves and of our family background. We either adapt and embrace it or fight it till death do we part. Deep thoughts, eat the cake, blow out the candle, enjoy the day and your health.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Very interesting read, Kathy. I think social constructs are valuable for societal/cultural reasons, but they are also malleable. So, your grandmother’s claim that Christmas was hers, it probably got everyone in the family together, which had a purpose. Now, you have claimed it for your family, which is equally valid. So, perhaps unlearning that norm isn’t necessary, but rather adapting it for the benefit of your family.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. They SHOULD be malleable; that, I can agree to, But (I hate to bring it up) think about politics alone. Part of how we function politically is a social construct, and if anyone (whether it be Obama or Trump) tries to do something different (whether “good” or “bad), then it’s an uproar.

      Anywho, I agree that tradition gets family together, but I think social constructs kinda lead to blindly following fill-in-the-blank thing.

      Ultimately, I’d just like for us all to think first…and then do.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m working through faith, religion, relationships—work to the degree that I can within this system. It’s heart rending and eye opening—but I’m still grateful for the process. Thank you for this…

    Liked by 3 people

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