Is Life About Checking Off Boxes?

Here's a good way to feel pressured and unfulfilled:  treat life like you're earning a Scout badge. L1015280.JPG

You remember that process from childhood, don't you? Your Scout leader announces the troop will be working toward some new badge - the Staying Fit badge, perhaps, or the Savvy Shopper badge, or maybe the Car Care badge (gee, I need those now) - and you all work down a preordained checklist to earn the badge.

Sure, there's some flexibility to the checklists - usually you only have to complete "any eight of the following twelve steps" or something of the sort - but it's pretty much, "do this, and you get this." For instance, with the Netiquette badge, you earn the knowledge of "how to make -- and keep -- my online world a positive place." (Wowzers, I could get my wacky cousin to stop spouting off below every single one of my Facebook statuses? That's quite the power.)

It has always seemed to me that our educational system - especially college - is little more than the earning of an exalted Scout badge. Now there's even a push toward having job merit badges in place of college degrees. (BTW, I so want the King of the Party Badge.)

It shouldn't be shocking, then, that after we leave college, we act like we're still in some great quest to "check off the boxes." In tribute to this mentality, here are - drum roll, please - the first official Career Avoidance 101 Life Badges! (This is precisely what you've been pining for since graduation, isn't it? Admit it.)

I've borrowed some prototype badge images from the Boy Scouts; we really must work on creating our own Career Avoidance 101 versions. Extra credit if you send one my way.

The Kickin' Kareer Badge

(Earn any eight check marks)

  • Get a full-time job offer within two weeks of graduating from college. [Note: Award yourself two check marks if you have a full-time job offer in hand before graduating.]
  • Cover your own health insurance. That's big time.

  • Move out of your parents' house. And stay out for at least three consecutive years. [Note: This check mark does not count if they are paying your rent.]
  • Earn a company match on a 401K plan. [Note: 403b plans - used for schools and nonprofits - only count as half a check.]
  • Have a sturdy name plate on your desk. On which your name isn't attached with velcro. And that you didn't buy for yourself. [Note: Parental purchases are also disallowed.]
  • Be given stock options. Not that you actually know what to do with them.
  • Have at least ten people contact you begging you to help them get a job.
  • Earn a salary higher than your best friend does. [Note: Award yourself two check marks if your salary is higher than all of your real world friends.]
  • Be given an office with real walls. In a corner. With big windows.
  • Enlist a C-level three letter acronym to chase after your name (examples:  CEO, CFO, CIO, CSO, CKO, CBS, CUS, CLC...alright, I made those last three up - any guesses?)
  • Found your own company that has an IPO and instantly makes you rich (Defined as:  "you could buy more than one house").
  • Get a doctorate. Just for the hell of it. [Note:  Three master's degrees may be substituted to earn this check mark.]

The Highfalutin Home Life Badge

(Earn any six check marks)

  • Locate a suitable spouse. (Defined as:  someone who is currently unmarried and who appears unlikely to steal from you.)
  • Connive said suitable spouse into marrying you.
  • Buy a home. [Note:  Award yourself two check marks if you buy first house with 20% down.]

    Image:Family Life.jpg

  • Have 1.86 kids. [Note: Seriously consider having only one as onlies are a hot trend, which may render the 1.86 kid requirement obsolete by the time you complete this check box.]
  • Serve your family solely food that is made from whole, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free ingredients that were produced within 50 miles of your home.
  • Buy a vacation home. Even though you're too busy with your Kickin' Kareer to go to it.
  • Rid your home of all plastic items (examples include plastic toys, plastic bags, plastic ziplocs, plastic utensils, hygiene products, and other things to which your mind can wander).
  • Subscribe to a parenting philosophy. All the better if said philosophy starts with a capital letter.
  • Get your children to do any three of the following:  be sleeping through the night by four weeks; be walking by 10 months; have 50 signs by age 1; be speaking in full sentences by 18 months; be fully potty-trained by age 2; be able to recite the ABCs and count to ten by 2.5 years; be able to add single digits by age 3.
  • Attend all of your children's sports events, plays, class presentations, awards ceremonies, dance recitals, and any event in which they will appear before more than fifteen people.
  • Secure a standing appointment with a psychologist. [Note: You may substitute regular appointments with any two of the following:  Life Coach, acupuncturist, Reiki Master, psychic, ayurvedic healer, masseuse, an illicit lover.]

The Sassy Socialite Badge

(Earn any four check marks)

  • Dredge up at least 1000 friends on Facebook. [Note: This total may be reached by summing followers across all social media sites, provided that the same individual is not counted more than once.]
  • Have accounts on at least six social media sites simultaneously.

    Image:Citizenship in the Community.jpg

  • Maintain a blog. That has at least 2000 followers. And that gets at least twenty comments per post.
  • Receive more than 200 emails a day, averaged across a one-month period, for at least three consecutive months.
  • Average 40 "likes" on each Facebook status for six consecutive months.
  • Eat out with a friend at least five times a week. [Note: If you have children, you may meet this requirement by meeting for a meal only three times a week.]
  • Have not an hour of your day go by without receiving a text, every day, for five consecutive months. [Note: The hours you are sleeping do not count.]
  • Tweet at least five times a day, every day, for one full year.
  • Have so many friends that you stop being able to keep track of their last names. Start referring to them by location instead, such as, "Lucy from the book club" and "Ben from the gym."

Add some age restrictions to these badges - You must complete The Kickin' Kareer Badge by age 25! - and, voila, you have the quarterlife crisis.

The thing about checklists is that they do give us comfort; for instance, we actually behave more creatively when working within constraints. But at the same time, they put pressure on us. And homogenize us. And presume to imagine that we can know now what will be important to us then.

The way I see it, it's one thing to have goals. It's another to have requirements. Particularly requirements ordained by someone else.

And what if the pursuit of these checklists is more exciting - more like "living life" - than is achieving them? What then? What if you're the 80-year-old with an entire wardrobe of badge-emblazoned vests? (Well, then you'd be seriously fashion challenged, but overlooking that...) What if you get to ponder said wardrobe in your abundant free time because you pushed everyone away in your mad pursuit to earn them? Will that feel like a life well lived?

Maybe. Maybe it will. I'm not quite 80 yet - contrary to my Bates students' beliefs - so it's hard for me to say.

But I personally am sick of earning badges. I'll leave that to the little girls wearing brown and green. And while I'm sitting around not earning a check mark, I'll thank them for their pursuit of their Cookie CEO badge; their Thin Mints sure make my unbadged life a little sweeter.

So tell me, what checklist items would you like to add to our badges?

Overachiever. (Photo credit: Susan NYC)