The Life Blueprint

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“All models are wrong. Some are useful.”Faris Yakob

The Life Blueprint® is a lottery system which varies from person to person.

Two people have sex and conceive a child, and on the day the child is born, they are given their customized Life Blueprint.

They vary dramatically from place to place. The kid slinging rock in south central Los Angeles who never met his dad has a schematic which looks much different from the one handed to the private-school teen from Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

The fisherman’s son in the Philippines has a Life Blueprint that looks and feels different from that of a bank president’s daughter in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I was handed a Life Blueprint, too. Just like them, and just like you. While all of them tend to vary among the various cultural demographics, we are all united in that we were all handed one with no attached instructions.

No one told us we weren’t obligated to follow the blueprint, and because we were babies and stuff, we weren’t smart enough to ask: “Umm. Why do we do things this way? Might there be a better way? Are we allowed to study other Life Blueprints and experiment? Are there examples of other people doing things differently and succeeding? What if we studied the Life Blueprints of a bunch of people we want to be like, and then follow the steps that apply to us? Why isn’t that an awesome idea?”

Maybe some people have these conversations through their formative years.

I didn’t.

I was just alive one day and felt happy to be loved and fed and hugged and protected by those who cared for me. Maybe if you live in a place where bombs fall at night, or with frequent gun violence in the neighborhood, or where people die often because there’s no accessible sanitary drinking water, you aren’t lulled into the comfort of the Life Blueprint. Maybe when you witness a bunch of shit and horribleness in daily life, you’re always looking for an escape.

So am I lucky? Because of my safe but perhaps sheltered upbringing?

Or unlucky? Because I accidentally believed one of Life’s biggest lies. The one we believed because no one told us differently.

The Way Things Are Here is THE Way.

We don’t see it as optional.

We see it as the path. Because everyone we see and everyone we know is walking it too.

What’s Your Life Blueprint?

I could have this wrong since I only have access to one brain, and it’s failed me before, but I’m pretty sure my Life Blueprint is shared by A LOT of people in the United States.

I imagine non-U.S. residents who haven’t spent much time stateside mostly think of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and maybe San Francisco and Chicago as representative of typical Americans.

But I think most people grow up in places like me.

Some smallish town in what people on the coasts call the “fly-over states.”

We grow up going to Friday night high school football games, going to church on Sunday, knowing personal secrets about people in other families because so many people know one another, and we don’t have to drive far to see farmland.

I grew up in a small Ohio town just like that. There are many good things about such a life. And as with everything, there are tradeoffs, too.

The Way (When You’re Me)

My Life Blueprint was basic enough.

You go to kindergarten when you’re 5, and you go to school and do your best every day until you graduate from high school 13 years later.

You have to do a good job in school so you can go to a good college, because that’s The Way to succeed.

Then, when you’re 18 and know a million times more than your stupid, close-minded parents, you move away to college, but probably not too far, because out-of-state tuition is a bitch and because you need those idiots to give you money, and a place to do laundry and eat balanced meals when you occasionally come home because there aren’t any unmissable keg parties on the radar.

Then, you get your bachelor’s degree, which means you’re ready to be a professional-something!

Then, you have choices!

  1. Take a job doing a thing for very little money relative to the median household income and try to work your way up.
  2. Go get a master’s degree to demonstrate MASTERY of a subject.

Maybe it’s nice having a master’s degree. I know several people with them, and I don’t think any are morons. But after five years of an inefficient major-switching, college-newspaper-editing, pot-smoking march toward my piece of paper telling the world I Did It!, I wasn’t interested in sitting in any more classrooms.

The Career Way

I’d followed the Life Blueprint, but even I had the good fortune to walk a path different from the average college student.

I can’t be sure how other college graduates feel RE: preparedness to tackle their career upon leaving university life. But in terms of doing the job? I was in good shape. I graduated with a Communication degree with a concentration in print journalism after floundering through three semesters of Business school where I failed Intro to Computing—the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint— TWICE, because that class was stupid and student loan money wasn’t “real money.” (I wonder whether I’m the only person to ever do that. Maybe!)

Because I was a college journalist lucky enough to be at a university with a fairly sophisticated newspaper published twice weekly (frequent by college newspaper standards), and hustled on summer and holiday breaks in professional newsrooms who welcomed my reporting, I had written hundreds of stories—including local front-page and even some national news—before getting a desk in the newsroom of a Florida paper after graduating.

I’m not sure what people who study economics, political science, or whatever feel after graduating.

But that’s kind of my point.

Take the poli-sci major who spends four years sitting in lecture halls and writing papers after reading pieces and parts of their 10-pound, $300 textbook. They graduate with $100,000 or more in debt, but they have their fancy new bachelor’s degree which will help political strategists or those managing political office staff realize how qualified they are!

Life Blueprint Challenge Exercise

What if the person who did that, instead of going to college, read one non-fiction book per week about political strategy, political history, biographies of politicians, or about any ancillary subjects important to those seeking political office?

What if the 18-year-old, instead of college, had volunteered all of her or his time to a local or state candidate’s election campaign, asking questions and experiencing life on the inside and building a network of strategists and elected officials?

What if, instead of going into debt $100,000 or whatever, they spent a fraction of that over four years traveling and gaining the kind of depth, perspective and maturity that only comes from experiencing new things?

Who do you want on your team, Elected Official or Person Running for Office?

The 22-year-old with mountains of debt, little to no experience, and a bachelor’s degree?

Or the one who read 200 books, worked on several campaigns, can pick up the phone for advice or to recruit help from a large network, has countless hours of real-world experience, and a ton of personal references from those she or he worked closely with?

On what planet would someone think the bachelor-degree way is better? Because the Life Blueprint said so, and so did all of our friends’, so we never question it?

And, honestly, Everyone 30 and Older Who Now Realizes Our Parents Knew Things: What is the WORST-possible outcome of this? Starting college as a 22-year-old and a ton of maturity and experience to apply to the classroom?

I don’t get it.

The Marriage Way

Where I’m from, you start thinking about marriage in high school or college. Anyone who has dated for two years might get married, and it’s not even weird. Seriously.

When you’re in high school, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people just like you.

When you’re in college, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people on the same general life path as you.

And even though Typical College Student demonstrates morally questionable behavior on the daily RE: sex, drugs and rock & roll, after a lifetime of church-going in Small Town, Fly-Over State, he or she has likely been taught that all sexual activity outside of marriage makes God, our parents, and most people we know really sad and/or uncomfortable.

Throw a bunch of college party-attending, single people with raging hormones, a lifetime model of seeing people meet and marry in their early to mid-20s, and a Life Blueprint in their back pockets reminding them they should hurry up and get married because of the sex thing, and also to have babies, because That’s Just What You Do—It’s The Way!, and it’s no mystery why so many young, well-intentioned people meet, fall in love, and get married without knowing The Things Married People Should Know.

Why do we do things this way?

Well, because we can’t know what we don’t know. And the Life Blueprint says we should do it this way. We look around, and everyone else is doing it that way, too, so it must be what’s best! I mean, everyone’s happy and winning the Game of Life, right?


Because we (and our children, if we’re not careful) believe: This is simply The Way things are done.

Because, models. All that we see, which tells us do this, and not that, because this is normal, thus obviously best.

But what if it’s not?

Because all models are wrong. There’s no such thing as One Size Fits All in the human experience.

But some models are useful.

Seek. And ye shall find.


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79 thoughts on “The Life Blueprint”

  1. I agree with this. Question models and think deeply about what you want and need and your gifts. Also consider how it will affect others. Don’t go into $100,000 in debt unless you really understand what you are doing. 😉

    The problem is we often substitute one model for another equally restrictive model instead of fixing the problem underlying the first model.

    That is what is wrong with the model described in your last post. Because so many people have crappy marriages and divorces, the new model is just not to get married. But still have children.

    That’s not a well thought out model either. It’s just reactionary on the opposite direction. Maybe ok on an individual basis but unintended consequences for large populations.

    1. Yeah, I don’t really understand the “live together with the plan of it being forever and have kids but don’t get married” thing. What exactly is the difference?

      In some ways I get it, because marriage is more a state of mind then a social/religious concept. I can be “married” to someone without being actually married. But if I’m already just as emotionally committed, I don’t see any reason to NOT get married. I mean, you’re already there anyhow right?

      I don’t see how a piece of paper makes anything better or worse.

      1. Frankly, I see that the piece of paper makes it better, if for nothing more than practical concerns, like my wife being able to be in the room with me at a hospital, or to make the big decision if it looks like I’m never going to get out of that hospital. On the “state of mind” level, there’s no incentive to go through the time, preparation and cost of a marriage, but on the “social”* level, there are many practical benefits to becoming recognized by the state as family.

        * I’ll leave thoughts on the religious aspect to religious people.

        1. Hey Travis, I think the piece of paper makes it better too. My point was more, for people who don’t bother with the piece of paper, why? Aren’t you just as committed? And if not, do you really think that having the long term relationship without the legal side of it really changes things that much?

      2. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        I don’t know if “common law” marriages are something recognized in the US, but here (depending on the province), you are considered “legally married” if you live with your partner for 3 years. There are other things to consider here as well with children.

        1. Pretty sure you’re considered common-law if you co-habitate for 6 months here. Which poses all sorts of problems for people who think they can just live together with no real commitment.

          I know a guy who had his own place, met a girl and when things got serious she moved in with him. They split up after about a year, and she was able to get 1/2 the value that his house appreciated during the time they were together (even though it was his place and she paid no rent). The market was pretty hot, so his house had appreciated 60k. He needed to reamortize his house to get 30k to pay her out, and had to get a second job to pay it off.

          Pretty crazy, but it makes it really clear that people need to think about the implications of what they are doing before they play house.

      3. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit


        Are you in Ontario, Canada?

        There was something going on there for a while about the 6-month crap. But I think the law has made it clearer now and there is really a 3 year rule.

        I had heard of some pretty nightmarish stuff going on myself and it really isn’t fair.

        I’ve heard of people being “roommates” and one claiming to be the “partner”, when in fact it was just both being promiscuous. I think a lot of people just live together out of “convenience” for money issues or whatnot, but it turns out they kinda spend a lot of time together and “voila”, your a couple all of a sudden.

        I think now, there is a pretty clear rule that you have to file your taxes as “common law” spouses for it to jive with the courts.

          1. Drew,

            You’re in Manitoba?

            I’m so sorry.

            Could be worse, could be Saskatchewan.

            Lol, sorry I couldn’t resist. I’ve actually never been to Manitoba. Or Saskatchewan. Looks pretty though! A lot like northern Ontario.

      4. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        I’m not sure of the details of the person you are talking about but I know there was a lot of uproar with some breakups, but here’s the department of Justice for Manitoba link where I found this:

        “As of June 30, 2004, the new laws apply to common-law couples who either:

        register their relationship at the Vital Statistics Agency, or

        if not registered, have lived together for a certain period of time (in most cases, three years, although in some acts it may be one year if the couple has a child together, or less; once a couple has lived together for THREE years, all the major property laws apply to them).”

        Here’s the actual link… I’d be PISSED if I were that person and this contradicts what he went through.

      5. I kind of think of the wedding as an acknowledgement and celebration of that fact that a couple has formed a meaningful bond and that through that bond two different families are going to be connected in some way. And when those families are in different areas it gives them a reason to get together and get to know each other.

        As for being married rather than de facto, in my mind, (perhaps only in my mind), it would be just that little bit harder to end a marriage, giving more incentive to make it work.

    1. Your tax returns are affected immediately when separated in Manitoba. The new common law couple gets a reprieve for one year when they are living together before they have to claim common law status…there was talk recently that it would be amended to 6 months

  2. I wrote a similar post just a few weeks back (though I thought of it as “fitting a mold” instead of following a blueprint.

    It’s weird – media and marketing tells us “don’t be like everyone else, you’re special, be an individual, be WHO YOU ARE”.

    But honestly, most of us don’t have a freaking clue who we are. And we spend the remainder of our lives trying to figure that out.

    I see the blueprint/mold as a positive thing, but I also see it as a template.

    If I were to tell you to go do X, and you have no idea what X is – how the hell are you supposed to do it? I’m guessing you would want to understand what X is, and maybe see a few examples of it.

    Life’s kinda the same.

    Imagine if, at 18 our parents just said – “alright, we’ve done our part. Go live your life, you’re on your own now”. We would have no idea what to do.

    So the blueprint/mold gives us more of a template. It’s a “common” way of doing things, but it’s definitely not the only way.

    Personally, I like the mold. Maybe it’s because it’s what I was indoctrinated with growing up, but I have no real issues with it. There are positives and negatives, for sure. But I like the idea of getting a good education, becoming self sufficient, building a life with someone, and having a family.

    All very blueprint stuff.

    I try to put my own spin on things though. Each of the roles I take on, I try to take on in the way that works for me, and I try to make them my own. Plus I accept that even though I just kind of went with the flow and followed the blueprint, “I” did it. Whether or not it was a conscious decision, I CHOSE it.

    No one forced me into it, and there’s no reason for me to be angry or resentful with anyone for a role I never wanted. And if I did feel that way, then it would be up to me to go a different road.

    I guess kind of like Travis (my “brutha from anotha motha”) has said in recent posts, I like me, and my life. If I could do it all over again there would be some small changes, but on the whole I think I would choose all the same things over again. Even my mistakes, as they made me who I am today and I think that’s a good thing. Guilt and shame don’t really impact me (mainly because I try to do what I think is right based on the evidence I have at the time), and what other people think really doesn’t matter that much. I mean, I care about other people and respect their opinions. And if someone shows me that I’m wrong about something and why, then I am willing to change my viewpoint. But that’s just part of growth.

    Anyhow, there’s no ONE blueprint – there are all sorts of life paths that work. Even so, I think the blueprint is generally pretty good.

    1. Zombiedrew – if the blueprint did not work for a bunch of folks no one would have drawn it right? But almost every blueprint needs some customization for the site / situation. And for some – there needs to be some pretty radical deviations. I don’t see the issue as being one with the blueprint – only with the blind unquestioning application of it.

      1. “I don’t see the issue as being one with the blueprint – only with the blind unquestioning application of it.”


        No one is dropping the ball here. This isn’t a case of neglect.

        People simply never even consider challenging The Way We Do Things.

        No one ever encourages us to.

        But, I will.

      2. Tina,

        You said, ” But almost every blue print needs some customization for the sit/situation And for some– there needs to be some pretty radical deviations.” Absolutely!! The LGBT community comes immediately to mind… they might not aspire to follow the blueprint, but under the circumstances of life here — how (until very recently) could they be included if they did . Without the feminist movement, women were effectively marginalized/excluded from that same blueprint– the lack of educational and employment opportunities and without reproductive freedom life didn’t offer much in the way of options.

        I’m also pondering the effects of the post/agrarian/industrial age. CHOICE is the major gift/curse of the age and it seems as a society we are floundering in the backwash.

        I am also trying to reconcile what I call my SNOWFLAKE theory of life– wherein each of us is miraculously unique and called upon to be our best selves — with the knowledge that no one life exists in a vacuum — nor would we choose total isolation over being members of a community.

    2. I like the blueprint too, Zombiedrew! I fought long and hard for it, so sometimes I get discouraged because so many seem to want to just throw the whole thing out.

      Kind of funny, my husband is a contractor and everytime people mess something up he likes to say, “don’t be trying to blame it on the blueprints!” Stuff gets lost in translation, mistakes happen, but it”s not always the plans that are wrong.

      1. IB,
        Hey. I want to apologize if I seem to contradict or disagree with you-I just see things differently. I can totally appreciate your fight for “the blueprint”. Believe me, I know what it’s like. Things didn’t resolve into having a family ect. for me, although I would have liked that, it just didn’t happen that way. So, I just wanted to tell you- I am really glad that you get to have that family, it is good stuff and really, really important.

  3. “And, honestly, Everyone 30 and Older Who Now Realizes Our Parents Knew Things: What is the WORST-possible outcome of this? Starting college as a 22-year-old and a ton of maturity and experience to apply to the classroom?”

    I’ve often thought working/traveling, ect. for a few years before going to college would be such a better benefit for everyone involved. You may be more likely to know what you want/dont want. You are also more likely to actually be interested in your classes. (Hence no failing intro to computer…? I didnt really think that was possible, by the way..:) Lol.
    And, your likely to be able to help a little more financially.

    Great writing! (You must have done something right!!)

  4. “And, honestly, Everyone 30 and Older Who Now Realizes Our Parents Knew Things: What is the WORST-possible outcome of this? Starting college as a 22-year-old and a ton of maturity and experience to apply to the classroom?”

    Well, if you’re a woman it might prevent you from getting a college degree and significant job experience before your age causes fertility problems.

    1. Im not a great example because I didn’t really start school until my late 20’s / early 30’s and – nope I don’t have kids, but…
      If you plot the timeline out (uh- oh, blue print making, in the making..)
      18-22 “Find yourself”
      22-26 College
      26-28 Masters,even
      29-40 Get married and have kids.
      Totally doable. (Even for women. After 40, its scary, but 38/39, still worth it.)

      1. As Travis points out men want younger “funner” women that don’t have a timeline.

        The older you are as a woman the harder it is. Supply and demand. And you have less time to have kids spaced farther apart. That’s less “fun” too.

        It works for individual women but not for populations of women. There will be a significant cohort who get left standing without a chair when the music stops.

      2. Lisa,
        I think I am already one of them.. :/.
        But really, and truly- my heart is not hung up on “finding a man” or “tying the knot.”
        I plan on living an awesome, courageous life and part of that is being authentically connected to other people. If I learn to love well, and be in the midst of relationship- then I’ll be just fine.
        If there is a man out there that is doing the same thing and he likes me and I like him- then great. If not, I’ll still be ok.

      3. Linbo,

        That’s a good place to be. Ok either way. 😉

        Plus that attitude makes you more “fun”.

      4. “But really, and truly- my heart is not hung up on “finding a man” or “tying the knot.”
        I plan on living an awesome, courageous life and part of that is being authentically connected to other people. If I learn to love well, and be in the midst of relationship- then I’ll be just fine.
        If there is a man out there that is doing the same thing and he likes me and I like him- then great. If not, I’ll still be ok.”

        Linbo… I love that you said this, so much. That’s how I feel and it’s really interesting to me how so many people view marriage and partnering up as some sort of life goal. Although I guess in my case I’ve already done the reproduction thing, so my biological clock isn’t a factor, but still. I love to hear when women view marriage and finding a man as more of a potential thing that could happen while they are out living an awesome life, vs. the women who seem to think their life would be incomplete without it.

      5. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        That’s exactly where I’m at!

        Not looking, not planning to look.

        IF it happens AFTER I’ve fixed a few things in myself, great!

        1. RuralBethany and ByGeorge,
          Yeah- I think it is normal for us to want love and relationship- it’s part of being human. Maybe it’s the blueprint thing that tells us it has to come from one person, in the marriage kind of relationship.
          I’m not saying to ditch marriage and the family model at all. I still think knowing and loving one person and that person knowing and loving you throughout your life is an incredible gift. Family is a secure base for raising children and ideally for evreryone else,too.
          But I think for people like myself, and you guys who have suffered treatment that I would describe as abusive and neglectful, learning how to love and be loved without the strings attached is freeing, and it teaches you what love really is. The love that we typically find ourselves in isn’t always that. The relationships we end up in, even if it started with the high emotions of affection and infatuation and we are expecting to be loved and cherished, end up being endless compromises.
          That’s part of relationships,yes- but if you’re the one always giving, always compromising – and that just to maintain the peace, never getting what your heart desires. That is the furthest thing from love. So maybe if we invest love in to those people around us, and find those few people who do love us back, even if the picture isn’t a marriage and children, we can understand what love is supposed to be like. And we won’t settle for anything less than that if there is that one person who says they want to know me for the rest of my life.

      6. The thought of taking 4 years to find myself makes my eyes bulge out of my head haha. I wanted to be in and out of school, and into my career asap.

        I started college and my PR career at 16. I traveled internationally for 5 months every year and graduated with an art degree and a business degree – first class.

        I now own my own firm, 11 years later. I much prefer a straight shot route like that.

        I could never wrap my mind around wanting to wait. Maybe some people need it, but all I can think of is 4 years of stalling my career! (FYI, I’m a workaholic)

        I also never understand why people think college takes away travel opportunities. We never get 5 months off once we start working. I own a travel agency and still don’t travel as much as I did in college ?

        To each their own. No two success stories are the same. And truth be told, I’m still working on writing mine.

        – Alex

        1. That sounds incredible, Alex!
          I wasn’t necessarily trying to prescribe a one size fits all formula. But, here in the states it is typical you either go to college right out of high school,( and just f-off most of the time) or you go to work, or get a trade.
          My thinking was that I really appreciated my education being a little older when I went instead of it being something that is just expected of you (if you are the lucky ones where college is expected.)
          …However -I will give you, that has come full circle and am thoroughly done with higher education/academia and at 42 am finally ready to concentrate on my career. Lol.
          That is why this is actually one of my favorite posts- we are all different, and it seems like life finds us no matter what. We can be trying to live the blueprint, but we will run across a wrinkle…something inside or outside of us knocks us off the careful straight lines and we are left to make our own.

          Myself and another commenter here were just talking about this sort of thing.
          It seems as though you knew what you wanted, and went and got it. THAT is great.
          Many times, though, freedom can be scary for some and the blue print can be a comfort- at least until you do know who you are, what you want etc. Then you have to be brave enough to defy the lines, and make your own way.

          That’s a whole new level of adulting, if you ask me.
          Anyway- thanks for bringing me back to this post.
          It’s very timely.

          1. Thank you Lindsey!

            It’s definitely important to wait to know what you want before you go after it. In high school, I would say most of us knew that. It’s a little bizarre to me that in other countries that’s not the case.

            I found other ways to defy the system – haha. You don’t make it to 27 as head of your own company by following the blueprint.

            Thanks again!

            ~ Alex

  5. “So am I lucky? Because of my safe but perhaps sheltered upbringing? Or unlucky? Because I accidentally believed one of Life’s biggest lies. The one we believed because no one told us differently.”

    Interesting subject, Matt. In the past few years of so, I’ve really come to feel grateful for having grown up all wrong. I never thought I’d say that, but it gave me the eyes to see things in a different way. Not long ago I looked at a man who had a perfect childhood, lots of material success, everything, and I genuinely felt bad for him. He’s shallow, superficial, vain, blind, but the only way he can ever hope to become something more is to experience some genuine suffering and hardship.

    “But I think most people grow up in places like me.”

    This made me laugh. No Matt, we don’t. That’s TV and American idealism. Most of us don’t grow up like that at all. I never had a blue print. From day one it was simply survive.

    1. I think the majority of U.S. born-and-raised readers of this blog absolutely grew up “kind of like” me. I think it’s a statistical certainty.

      I’m suggesting MOST kids grow up in a relatively little known place. MOST go to church on Sunday, at least on Christian holidays. MOST believe K-12 education is What You Do from 5-18, and that going off to college is the next step. And finally that MOST people meet the person they eventually marry in their school years or super-early in their working lives.

      I think my perception growing up of The Way is shared by most in much the same way I can write about my marriage and find that MOST people can identify with that too.

      Regardless, it applies to everyone, no matter what. Tina nailed it. The problem isn’t that there are models.

      The problem is that so many grow up never questioning whether they should follow them.

      1. Most? I don’t think so, Matt, not even close. What you describe is actually idyllic and reserved for a small group of Americans. There’s this whole other world called “not middle America.” There is child sexual abuse, extreme poverty, alcoholism, addiction, homelessness, unwed mothers, street crime. Heck Matt, I only went to two years of school and didn’t set foot in a church until I was 13 and that was only for a few short months. I’m not trying to be argumentative here, I’m just fascinated by the way you think that what you had is somehow normal and something “most” people experience.

        I grew up longing for the models and worked hard to achieve something resembling them, so it surprises me that you would believe “so many grow up never questioning whether they should follow them.” Actually, most of us grow up longing to find them and follow them.

        1. I said most readers of this blog. I can’t prove it. I’m just pretty sure. I’m glad it doesn’t matter.

          I’ve made no secret that upon maturing, I realized I had spent a lifetime unappreciative of the safe, steady and often fun environment in which I was raised.

          I’m sorry if it came off ungrateful. I’m certainly not that.

          I just want people asking the oft-unasked questions as it pertains to the Life Blueprint:

          1. Why?

          2. What if?

          The answers to those questions matter.

          1. “I just want people asking the oft-unasked questions as it pertains to the Life Blueprint”

            Okay, but look at the world around us. People have thrown the blueprint out when it comes to anything perceived as traditional, church, marriage, women staying home and raising kids. We are marching in lock step with a culture that has thrown out the blueprint entirely. We can even pick our own gender now if we like.

            Marriage is now nothing more than a piece of a paper and if the paper it too much, you can just skip that too.

          2. The Life Blueprint I write of is a lie. A lie many of us believe as children and young adults because we only know about what we’ve been exposed to, and nothing more.

            Those things you mention? Values? Children? What many would call “traditional” best practices for family?

            There’s ZERO evidence those things are lies. In fact, there’s enormous evidence that children raised in such an environment are stable, healthy, good citizens, and grow into highly functional contributors, who often go on to replicate that model.

            I’m not asking people to rebel for the sake of rebellion. I’m asking people to ask the hard questions.

            The truth ALWAYS holds up to scrutiny. That’s what’s so beautiful about it.

            Maybe you were questioning my motives here. There’s nothing wrong with stable, queit, traditional living. MANY people find that totally gratifying.

            I submit that many people (specifically readers of this blog) do not find their lives totally gratifying.

            Just maybe, playing by everyone else’s rules because you never even thought to consider another way is the reason why.

            I don’t know. I mostly followed the Blueprint. And the 37-year-old me recognizes the bullshit.

            I did what I was “supposed” to do.

            And now I know: There was a better way.

            The road less travelled.

          3. LOL! I’m sorry Matt, I think I’ve been on the road less traveled for so long, I’ve forgotten that there could be any other!

            What an odd world we’re living in! Every traditional thing I’ve ever done was an act of defiance, a road less traveled, a refusal to follow the culture’s blueprint, which would have left me with tons of student debt, no marriage, no children, and probably a job I hate worse than the one I currently have.

            As to life being totally gratifying, well I’m not convinced life is supposed to be gratifying, not totally, not all the time. I’m laughing here, but I’m not even sure total gratification is a good idea.

          4. Well. For whatever it’s worth, I’m thrilled that your mind works as it does, and (minus any undeserved or needless pain attached to it), am grateful for the experiences that have shaped you so that you could be a part of helping to shape 30-something me.

            That’s real talk. Thank you for engaging thoughtfully in these conversations.

      2. Matt,
        I know your describing the externals- chronological events, ect. And I think youre right that most people just follow along thinking that these events and milestones are what life is about. It is when you start questioning your values that you start discovering what you should really be doing with your life.
        You can live the route, mundane life year in and year out – a lot of people do, even if they are miserable. They may never ask if there is another “Way”, or if they do ask, they are sometimes scared to change the life they have around them.
        You are lucky that you get to ask and answer these questions. 🙂

      3. **Matt- I also want to note that my “your lucky” statement was not in anyway making a statement that you had it better than anyone else.
        I think you are probably right that “most” people had your middle American experience. But I think it may be possible that they are still in that experience and may have never had to ask the hard questions or get the incredible answers and experience that you have gotten.

        1. No doubt. IB said it: At some point, you start to feel sorry for the people who never had the chance to grow because everything came too easy.

          They’re often unpleasant in adulthood.

      4. It’s not just the ones who have it really great, either.
        Not asking the questions is what mediocrity is made of.
        But the fact that you, and IB, and everyone here is asking those questions-
        that can only help improve our understanding of life, and help us function in and enjoy it so much more.
        “Why” and “What if”..Those are excellent questions.

  6. Really really REALLY good post Matt. It’s so hard to step out of what we feel is a genetic must in order to find ourselves, rewrite the blueprint of our lives/marriages.

    1. Like everything discussed around here, there are no simple solutions.

      There’s no: “Well, if we just do This Thing, everything will be better!”

      These life problems require awareness. Then conversation. Then parental engagement and encouraging children to (when appropriate!) buck the status quo.

      Little by little, our perspectives and experiences become more enriched, and we have less life dissatisfaction on account of “But I didn’t know better!”

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      1. The complete irony is, we are totally the makers of status quo. We are culture,we are society,ect. So yes- learning to ask and teaching to ask questions about- what makes you feel alive, what is that internal voice saying, ect.ect. Then THAT is the status quo. That could totally be the norm.

  7. “I imagine non-U.S. residents who haven’t spent much time stateside mostly think of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and maybe San Francisco and Chicago as representative of typical Americans.

    But I think most people grow up in places like me.

    Some smallish town in what people on the coasts call the “fly-over states.”

    By definition most people grow up where there are the biggest populations so I don’t think most people grow up like you. Certainly not in the Catholic private school environment you described.

    They have other models since it is impossible to escape some sort of societal norms but I’m not sure the Catholic premarital sex guilt is that common anymore.

    1. Don’t overthink the private school thing. It was SUPER-basic. We didn’t even have our own football field.

      About half of Americans live in cities, townships, villages or unincorporated areas with populations under 25,000 people. I bet that was higher in the 1980s and 90s, as the small-town kids continue to migrate to more populated areas as all the demos grow with time.

      My hometown had just over 20,000 people where I grew up, and we were the county seat. My high school graduating class had 75. The public school (there was only one!) was much larger, though.

      I stand by all of this, not that it matters.

      These are ancillary discussions. But I’m confident the 1985 census data has my back, anyway.

      1. I just looked up the census data and it backs me up that my childhood growing up in a suburb of a major city was more normal than your small town one.

        And in fact your childhood is the least common for the US population. Your blueprint has commonalities with other areas but it has differences too that rural or urban people might not have.

        Should I send this comment or not? It doesn’t matter to the big point but we are arguing about facts and I have a weakness there. Plus I just love to debate points relevant and non relevant. Hmm what to do?

        Should I eat Doritos to squelch this urge? Will Matt be irritated? Well sure that’s a given. Will I be filled with guilt and shame? Which definition do I even use for shame or guilt?

        No, it’s too much for my weak, immature mind. The Dark Side has won. These are not the census stats you are looking for.

        Here are the stats we need.

        There are 486 areas classified as urbanized clusters, defined as cities of 50,000 or more in the 2010 census. 71.2% of the US population lives in cities of 50,000 or more. 68.3% in 2000.

        There are 3,087 Urban clusters like Matt’s city. 9.7% of the US population lived in these areas in 2010, 10.7% in 2000.

        Rural areas were 19.3% in 2010 and 21% in 2000.

        In 1980 12.2% lived in a city with a population between 10,000-24,000.

        1. Semantics! MSAs are comprised of all kinds of self-governed towns under 50,000. They all have mayors and city councils and local school boards, even though they’re part of greater Buffalo, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Memphis, Little Rock, Indianapolis, etc.

          I live in a small city in greater Cleveland.

          The kids growing up here are STILL experiencing the phenomenon I’m writing about here.

          If you are the child of a person who sells sea shells to tourists from a roadside tent in the Dominican Republic, are you not still subject to all this?

      2. Matt,

        I know it is partly semantics but there are real differences in the blueprints depending on where you live.

        It was not common in the major city I grew up in for a college educated person to get married right out of college. That is the blueprint you described. That is not an urban blueprint.

        It is common for women where I grew up to have children much later than the national average. That is why I am much, much older than many of the mothers where I live know.

        Different blueprint. It does matter. I knew I was not following the “average” blueprint already since I lived in a place where the blueprint was different.

        It was easier for me to question all the blueprints because of it. That’s my point.

        1. Every person in every place has one unique to their specific family and cultural surroundings.

          Maybe this is what I should have written:

          “Don’t assume something is best just because everyone around you does it that way.

          “Question EVERYTHING.

          “Don’t believe everything you see and hear.

          “Always ask, ‘What if…?,’ then test it to find out.”

          No matter who you are, and no matter where you’re from.

      3. Matt, you said:

        “Every person in every place has one unique to their specific family and cultural surroundings.
        Maybe this is what I should have written:
        “Don’t assume something is best just because everyone around you does it that way.

        “Question EVERYTHING.

        “Don’t believe everything you see and hear.

        “Always ask, ‘What if…?,’ then test it to find our.”

        No matter who you are, and no matter where you’re from.”

        I agree with you that’s why I questioned your census data. 😉

        1. I read that in the year 2000, more than half of Americans lived in communities with fewer than 25,000 people. That includes all of the suburban clusters on the outskirts of cities!

          And I educatedly guess that was even more true in the 1980s when we were wearing Jams and listening to Guns n’ Roses. All the cool kids, anyway.

      4. Matt,

        I read that in the year 2000, more than half of Americans lived in communities with fewer than 25,000 people. That includes all of the suburban clusters on the outskirts of cities!

        And I educatedly guess that was even more true in the 1980s when we were wearing Jams and listening to Guns n’ Roses. All the cool kids, anyway.

        I don’t understand that statistic. If we think about it in terms of the 486 cities that are listed on the Census link it makes more sense. Most people live in or in suburbs of either huge, large, or medium cities.

        You grew up in a suburb of Cleveland? I’m wondering why you describe it as small town as opposed to a suburb. Was it far enough away from Cleveland it didn’t feel part of it?

        I hate the blueprint of the city we live in now. So weird that they know people from kindergarten even as adults. They’re not very friendly because of it. Maybe that’s why I’m so cranky about these statistics.

      5. Guns n’ Posers? No way! That is soo not what the real cool kids were doing…
        Just kidding…

        I guess the other half of the population is in metropolitan areas? Like Houston, or Chicago, ect. maybe?
        I live in an area of 200,000 (but that includes rural areas). This is a small town for me. So, 25,000 is extremely small. (But you were saying it was kind of a suburb of a bigger city?- I usually just include the population of the city.)…
        And this is how the discussion gets derailed. Sorry for that.

        My sense was the “THE WAY” was more along the lines of developmental milestones.
        We have those from conception- adolescents, and I think we kind of get into the mindset that marriage and career are the next developmental steps into adulthood.
        I do think that yes “intimate relationships” are very important, and so is finding a worthwhile occupation.
        But individually that can unfold in so many different ways.
        If there were a way to slow us down in our 20’s, and get us to look at “deeper” things- then maybe we would all have the answers!
        But, I think sometimes we wont/don’t learn until we live it. We don’t know who we are, and we aren’t who we are until we get there. – if that makes any sense.
        Just be grateful that you have gotten a chance to learn about some pretty important things, and you are still young enough to reap the rewards of the learning. …And, you are better prepared for struggles and rewards that will still come. (Because yes, life is sometimes just learning how to overcome challenges.)

      6. Matt,BTW- I saw a friend of mine wasn’t so nice to you on your facebook page. I was a little shocked.I swear I had nothing to do with it, but, I want to apologize for him. I wrote him a note and told him that you were a really great guy and if you have any questions, or disagree with something you said that you would be glad to talk about it.
        Maybe I shouldn’t even mention it, but – He usually isn’t such a weirdo/idiot/douchbag.

      7. Linbo,

        Matt,” I wrote him a note and told him that you were a really great guy and if you have any questions, or disagree with something you said that you would be glad to talk about it.”

        Tell him to ask Matt about his census data 😉

        1. Lol 🙂
          Hey, the creep that I am, I just wrote you a note on facebook. You may not get it unless you look for it, since we aren’t FB Friends. So, will you go look for it?

  8. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit


    This post reminded me of this clip of Mark Gungor talking to teens. His “blueprint” of how we should do it.

    Not that YOU remind me of him, but he pushes the idea to marry young. I’m actually mortified by his “ways”. Or at least a good part of what he says here.

    I’m not mortified that the young need to understand commitment, but the idea he’s giving out doesn’t make sense to me.

  9. I’ve spent a lot of years debating these same schematics. I grew up in a safe, stable, religious suburban town, and I had a positive experience, but I’ve spent all my adult life abroad in major cities. My kids have grown up in these major metropolises I dreamed about as a kid, but they’re now drawn to the suburban and rural experiences they never had.

    I followed the traditional college path and got my degrees but I don’t feel like I was prepared for a career in any way proportional to the time and money spent. For my own kids I keep thinking of all the life experiences and apprenticeship opportunities you could provide for them with a fraction of the money we spend on college.

  10. I find this facinating. My oldest has one year left of Physical Therapy school and then plans to travel for three years to pay down some of her massive debt. My mother in law just told her this past weekend that was selfish and stupid. She needs to get married and have babies. To which my daughter asked if she would like to give her 150,000 to pay off loans. That shut the mother in law up and demonstrates the life blue print you just wrote about!
    Love your blog found it by WordPress featuring your dirty dish blog that went viral!

  11. I’ve never been good with rules (or blueprints). Not because I’m this wild child rebel who has a problem with authority but more because I sometimes feel I have the mentality of a toddler, always asking, ‘but why?’ (in hindsight I should really encourage the wild child rumour…it makes me sound MUCH cooler lol). Your post reminds me of Solomon Asch’s experiments on conformity. He’d ask a group of subjects to identify the smallest line. In actuality, only one member of the group was the subject, the rest were plants. After a few times the ‘plants’ would deliberately answer incorrectly and the subject would agree. Even though his own eyes were telling him one thing, 95 percent of the time the test subject would conform to the crowd’s consensus. As a gal whose first instinct is to go left when everyone else turns right, my whole life, people have affectionately said I walk to the beat of my own drum, but whose else am I suppose to follow? And why? All the time I have all these questions but no one else seems to be putting up their hand so for years I just kept my head down and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. These days I’m a little more comfortable in my own skin and will happily admit I have no IDEA what I’m doing, but I try to have a good time doing it…so if you’re in the area, stop by….I’m one HECK of a drummer if I do say so myself. What I lack in talent I make up in enthusiasm 😉

  12. Matt,

    I have some questions about the blueprint. Who were the draftsmen responsible for its development? What was their goal/agenda? Was it a benign exercise in promoting the “greater good’ ” or was its purpose to support a particular economic framework, i.e. capitalism? Was the blueprint ever put to a vote? Was there something called “universal suffrage” at the time the blueprint came into being? In other words, how did we get here–from there?

    Not only do we need to question the “fit” the blueprint has for our lives, but also the context and continued relevance it has for a society that now seems very ready to abandon some or all of its ideas and implied principles.

  13. So, speaking of asking “Why?” and “what if?”..
    I just had lunch with a really good friend who was talking about the fact that she cant think about retirement #1) Because it seems so far away and #2) it seems kind of impossible to save for a retirement that last 30-40 years. We would have to give up half of our current income into savings and even then it wont be worth what it is today by the time we retire.
    She may have mentioned Tim Ferris and “mini- retirements”. Has that been mentioned here before?
    But it got me thinking how much sense that makes, and is a perfect example of why we should learn to ask “why?” and “what if?”.
    Because yeah, in the blue print we typically get married, have kids, work until we hate it and ourselves, then we retire – to do what?
    For most people retirement is another loss, and another major life transition. A lot of people get depressed when they go into retirement.
    The idea of mini-retirements really addresses a lot of different things, and I think is actually something we have been doing, for a little while at least. People experience “mini-retirements” when they switch careers, for example.
    So what do mini-retirements “fix”? The impossible amount of money you need for the final retirement. You have a smaller goal to aim for. And, usually smaller goals can be achieved more aggressively, but it doesn’t have to be.
    So, if you want to take a 1-2 year mini retirement to travel, save up enough money for that year or two over the course of x number of years. (Someone posted that traveling is acutally cheaper than typical living expenses).
    Or save up for a break where you can study something that really interests you, go learn something new and have new experiences. These mini-retirements can be supplemented by part time work, too.
    When you become older, if you’ve done it well, you would likely have a really interesting skill set that could help you get a good “retirement job”.
    Securing a modest home and some savings while you are working can help for when you do finally retire. Buying and keeping a home for the 30 years that it is typically financed can set you up to have very low expenses when that time comes.
    It ends up being a value trade-off in some things. Like living more modestly, but being able to have interesting experiences. Or, working until your older, but maybe feel younger because you lived well.
    Just some thoughts.
    Not that every thing status quo is bad, but definitely when it stops working, its time to ask “why”? and “What if” ?

    1. That is a kick-ass lunch conversation.

      And exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. Thank you for the thoughtful contributions here. It’s good stuff.

    2. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

      I’ve been thinking along these lines for years… It can be done if done properly.

      Life is short! Live when you can “grow” something in yourself as opposed to declining…

  14. Some deep thinking there and I like it. I’ve had similar feelings, thoughts and experiences as an educator. However, I feel somewhat more prepared in my 5th year in the profession as I have experienced two different career paths before I decided to become a teacher. What I found in uni/college life were many positive and inspiring people and experiences. The thing that struck me was the mature age students who had all come from a variety of previous experiences more or less had it wired. They knew where they were going and how they were going to get there. The 18 and early 20 year olds sometimes floundered, it wasn’t their fault. They were just experiencing life, having fun, making mistakes, etc. Life’s blueprint, it’s a good blog and something that should be considered deeply and constructively throughout your entire life. People can change their lot in life when given the know how, it’s not easy most of the time but it is worthwhile if you want it. A life spent striving for what really fulfills you and makes you the most inspiring and happy person you can be sure beats the well worn path of I’m doing it because everyone else has since my great grandparents were young. Get out there and enjoy life, as a teacher I believe experience and reflection are the best and most important elements for life long learning and contentment in life. Good blog.

  15. I think the realization of, and subsequent resentment of, the “blueprint” is at the core of many midlife-crises. “Hey…wait a sec…what…When did I ever say I wanted THIS? What DO I want? Is it this? Is it Not This? What is it? Who am I?” Then you essentially play psychological dress-up for awhile while you dig for something that better fits you.

    At least that was my experience….

    As far as college? I’m trying to talk my son into learning a trade, and scoring a job with a company that offers tuition reimbursement. Free school is highly underutilized….

  16. Pingback: Can a Marriage or Relationship Be Brought Back from the Dead? -

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Matt Fray

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