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.
THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU VALUE: Family time.
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.
UNLEARN THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCT AND RE-CREATE LIFE BASED ON YOUR VALUES.
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