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Auntie SparkNotes: I’ve Never Made My Own Choices

Dear Auntie,

I just started college and I feel like I don’t know who I am. I realized that I’ve never really made a decision for myself, and even in the future I’ll be making decisions just so I’ll have the approval from others.

I have five older siblings and whenever they do anything I learn from it, which is grea,t but I feel like I’m living my life from an instruction manual. I’ve always wanted a tattoo but when my brothers got tattoos, my mom made me promise that I would never ever get a one. When we were doing laundry and my mom found my sister’s boyfriend’s clothes (which really isn’t concrete evidence that they’re having sex), she told me I should wait until marriage. And when I was applying for colleges, my parents said I had to get a full ride if I wanted to go to any other school than the one my siblings had gone to. They would not fill out FAFSA so I couldn’t qualify for any significant financial aid. I didn’t even bother applying anywhere else, and I go to the same school my siblings went to.

I don’t feel like I have any control over my life even though I live independently, have a job, and am going to school. I try really hard to get past it but I can’t shake feeling frustrated and defeated all the time.

In that case, darling, allow me to introduce you to the mind-blowing concept of listening politely to your parents when they tell you what to do… and then making your own choices anyway.

Because when you say that ” I’ve never really made a decision for myself, and even in the future I’ll be making decisions just so I’ll have the approval from others,” Auntie SparkNotes must gently point out that you don’t actually have to do that. You can, in fact, make decisions for reasons that have nothing to do with what other people want. You can do that! You can do that right now, even, when it comes to the decisions that are yours and yours alone to make! And the only tradeoff is that you must be able to cope with the consequences of your choices—including the part where you may be disappointing someone else who hoped you’d choose differently. C’est la vie.

For instance, your mom finds your sister’s boyfriend’s clothes and says you should wait until marriage to have sex, and… I mean, so what? If she wants to use an incident like that as a teachable moment, that’s her prerogative—but when, why, and under what circumstances you become sexually active is still entirely up to you. All you have to do is nod along (or not) and then do what you’re gonna do… which, not for nothing, is almost certainly what your siblings did. You must realize that they would have gotten similar guidance about how to live their lives—and yet here they are, getting inked and bringing home laundry with their significant others’ underpants mixed in. (Side note: If you want to assert yourself as an independent adult doing your own thing instead of just following in your siblings’ footsteps, you could start setting yourself apart right now by doing your own washing.)

So, if what you want is to feel like you have control over your life, then maybe this is a good time to make a few decisions that would mystify your family members and serve no purpose except to fulfill you, personally—whether it’s pursuing a certain college major, or dyeing your hair funny colors, or eating a box of Pop Tarts for dinner just because you can. But also, you might want to take this moment to consider how much autonomy you already exercise on a daily basis, in ways you probably don’t even recognize. Do you choose your own friends? Set your own bedtime? Pick out your own clothes on a daily basis? Do you decide every day what to have for breakfast, or not to have it at all? What’s your major? Your minor? Your class schedule? Your job? How do you spend your leisure time? All of these things represent choices—and sure, some of them are less significant than others, and some of them don’t feel much like a choice because the alternative is taboo or unappealing, or both (i.e. you get dressed every morning because wandering around outside in the nude is as illegal as it is embarrassing and uncomfortable.) But just because you choose the conventional or obvious thing, that doesn’t make it compulsory. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and making you put pants on. And on that same note, you could have gone through the ordeal of becoming legally emancipated, applying for loans, and slowly working your way to a degree for the sake of attending a different school—but you didn’t, and that was your choice. Now is the time to recognize that you made it for a reason, and start working within the framework you’ve selected for yourself.

Meanwhile, you’ve only just started college—so yes, in a superficial sense, you are walking the same route as your siblings did when they graduated high school. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t in control, or that you aren’t on your way to forging a more unique path. I mean, look at your sibs; did they all have identical college experiences? Are they currently living identical lives? Surely not—and neither will you. Even on the confines of this particular campus, an enormous breadth of possibilities is available to you, and at this point in your life, you can explore as many of them as you want. So try things, and if what you try is frustrating or unfulfilling, try something else. You’ve got time, and a whole lot of options. And while some of your choices may feel unexciting or obvious, all of them will be uniquely yours.

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