A few months ago, one of my good friends from high school told me she was pregnant. The life path of the contemporary young adult flashed in my mind: go to high school, get a degree, go to college, get a degree, then get more degrees or get a job. Even though I think my friends and I were supportive of her, there were underlying recommendations of an abortion or an adoption. Some of us, I suppose, wondered whether she could continue her current trajectory as a college student with this child on its way.
After a couple of weeks, she decided to keep the baby.
We see what we want to see. Because of confirmation bias and perceptual salience, our own ideas always appear most appealing to us, even when faced with contradictory evidence. For example, in a study conducted by Ross, Lepper, and Hubbard (1975), participants were asked to distinguish between real and fake suicide notes. Some were told that they did very well (24/25 correct) and others were told that they only did okay (10/25 correct). Afterward, all the participants were told that experimenters randomly assigned them to one condition or the other – their performance was not really measured, they were just placed in the “accurate” group or the “inaccurate” group. When asked again how many of the suicide notes they thought they got correct, they stuck close to their group designation: those who were told they did very well guessed around 24/25, and those who were told they only did okay still answered around 10/25. This study shows that we cling to our biased beliefs, even when logic argues against us. Even though we know many paths exist in life that lead toward success, we stick to the ones taught to us at a young age.
A counterargument exists that society guides us toward certain paths for a reason, that the measures in place help us more than hurt us. This holds true in some circumstances, but there will always be people on the fringe: those whose passions guide them to study art instead of business, those whose aptitudes push them right to work instead of college, and those whose psychological reactivity remains higher than the rest of us. Instead of condemning or looking down on people who move through the world in ways that we do not, we should support them and learn from them, because everyone has struggles and experiences to share no matter what route they take. Enough pressure already exists to conform, and we should empathize with those who strike out on their own.
I guess all of this sentimentality comes from my return home after my first year of college. I reflect on all of my friends from high school and how our paths have diverged; most are in college, but all moved in different directions. No matter what road someone takes, if they travel it with all their heart, they will succeed – walking in the rain is better than sitting down and letting yourself drown. And I know my good friend will make a wonderful mother: despite the many challenges that await her, her friends will be there to support her as much as we can, and all of her hard work will pay off.
What do you guys think? Are there any unusual decisions you’ve made or paths you’ve chosen? What about other people in your life? Do you think that moving on unforeseen routes might even increase motivation to succeed? I feel like the availability heuristic makes us more inclined to pay attention to high school or college dropouts who succeed as opposed to those who don’t, but there’s no one set outcome for everyone. Also, if you want to check out my reviews for Appetites by Caroline Knapp or Goodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriell, you can do here and here respectively. Have a great weekend, everyone!