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What They Tell You and What Is Real

From the time you’re born until the time you die, all kinds of people will have all sorts of ideas for you.

If you aren’t careful, their ideas will take up a dominant place in your mind, crowding out any of your own independent ideas.

For example, other people tend to have ideas about:

  • How you should live
  • How you should spend your time
  • What kind of work you should do
  • What kind of relationships you should have
  • What you value and what you believe
  • How your actions align or misalign with those values and beliefs

Often, these ideas are presented as for your own good—and sometimes, that might be true. But almost always, they’re also “for the good” of the person doing the presenting.

It’s good to remember that other people benefit from your compliance. Once you remove the hidden information (i.e. why do they have these ideas for me?) you can make more informed choices for yourself.

That’s always a helpful first step, and here’s another: learn to separate what they tell you from what is real.

What Is Reality?

Reality is a socially constructed ideal. You determine what is real based on your experience, even though your experience is naturally limited.

You can always contrast this model—reality is what you make of it—with what someone else tells you. For example:

They tell you: You must have a job and contribute to society through paying taxes, following social norms, and showing up to work on time.

What is real: Millions of people are opting out of employment altogether! Many of them are doing just fine.


They tell you: If you think differently than us, you’re wrong. Things will be better if you conform to the group opinion.

What is real: Who’s to say what you should be thinking about? You can THINK whatever you want!


They tell you: This is how relationships are defined, based on my own limited experience.

What is real: Relationships can be defined in lots of ways. (They can also evolve and become something different than they once were—that’s okay, too.)


They tell you: You must follow the rules of my religion, even if I interpret the rules to suit my own interests.

What is real: You can make and follow your own rules—and just like with relationships, your rules can change over time.

You can probably see how this plays out in lots of other scenarios. What they tell you isn’t always what is real. Knowing the difference allows you to make clearer decisions.

You Don’t Have to Always Opt Out

Sometimes you might choose to go along with what they tell you—and sometimes, that’s perfectly fine.

It’s good to pick your battles, focus on what’s important, etc. You’ll build up goodwill as other people think you’re bending to their will and adapting their “correct” views as your own.

But other times, you’ll want to assert your right to choose. The first step in doing so is learning to separate what they tell you from what is real.


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