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Bridesmaids, Bachelors (Degree), and the Pursuit of Happiness

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Written By Sahsha Campbell-Garbutt

I believe it's safe to say, or cliche, that parents want the best for their children. I came from a family of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the early '70s in search of the American Dream.

You know a house with a picket fence, some type of pet, education, marriage and a baby carriage. They were convinced that this dream's acquisition was solely obtained by going to college and for women, marrying a person who is at bare minimum their educational equal and financial superior.

Since the idea of that dream had been passed on to them, it was our job, the children of opportunity, to attain it. Whatever ambitions we had for our lives, whatever alternative pictures of happiness we painted in our young minds, they were replaced by the pursuit of snagging a bachelor (and its namesake degree) and earning the most coveted "degree" -- advancing from bridesmaid to bride.

In speaking with those who either have a four-year degree or higher, a spouse or both, the reasons given to them for acquiring these were parallel. Check out the consensus below.

Reasons given to get married:

1. It's the adult thing to do
2. Financial security/Benefits
3. "You all can't be BF/GF forever!"
4. "You don't want to be old and alone, do you?"
5. You had a child
6. "You don't want to be a negative statistic, do you?"
7. The wedding
8. "What will people say and think if you don't?
9. "We'd like to see you walk down the aisle before we die, ya know..."

Reasons given to obtain a degree:

1. See above
2. See above
3. "You want to be stuck in a dead end job forever?"
4. You don't want to be uneducated, do you?"
5. See above
6. See above
7. The graduation
8. See above
9. "We'd like to see you graduate before we die, ya know..."

Any of these sound familiar? They probably do if we've all been given the same reasons for getting them: success, happiness, and wealth. I'm in no way bashing the institution of marriage or criticizing the pursuit of a college education. I am a happily married woman who is in the process of gaining a professional certification. I am, however, challenging us to dissect our beliefs and desires, while using caution in passing down those beliefs and desires to others.

The pursuit of an education is essential to the growth and development of an individual and to our society, but the method in which one obtains an education should not be defined by status quo. Some of human kind's greatest minds either never completed or never stepped foot into a traditional university.

Many of our most admired figures, some who set the standard of genius, adhered to no curriculum other than that explainable desire from within to follow the tug of that thread which pulled at their heart string. Journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells briefly attended Shaw University, but was expelled due to "rebellion." That rebellious spirit, not to be contained, was the fuel for her writing about racial injustice, which brought attention to inequalities in the United States, and admiration for her tenacity from around the world. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of Apple both fell short of completing their formal education only to establish one of the biggest software companies known to man. Passion and focus, coupled with a willingness to explore the unknown for the sake of self-fulfillment, not attached to a particular outcome, spells success.

Success is as self defined as beauty is to the beholder, so to encourage someone to obtain a level of success based on that which has been done before, without examining how fulfilled those individuals felt is as damaging as encouraging someone to sit in this life as an observer and not a participant, as a follower and not a leader. A college degree, like a baton passed in a race, can lead you towards the finish line, but it cannot guarantee you winning; only clear intention along with a strong curiosity for the "what if's" of life and a monumental sense of purpose can do that. A formal education alone has never guaranteed happiness and fulfillment anymore than a formal wedding has ever guaranteed a long lasting successful marriage.

Instinctively, a meaningful marriage is built from a desire to share a greater love with a kindred spirit. If the need for marriage or partnership comes from the aforementioned list above, one should neither get married or be forced to, due to societal norms. In speaking with my mother, she told me how common it was in her times and in times before to get married for reasons other than love. Many women felt like it was their ticket to a good life because they were never taught that their mere existence was enough to warrant the good life. Women were taught their lives had no value and deserved little merit without a man. Some still believe it. Many men felt the pressure to marry a woman because traditionally family wealth and business were passed down to man post matrimony.

Others tied the knot because nights of passion or lust lead to conception. Some still do. I was shocked to see reality TV shows (yes, some things STILL shock me, but reality shows shouldn't, I know) that promote marrying strangers and competing with other men and women for a spouse. Talk about pressure! Talk about subconscious compliance! Talk about ratings! Nonetheless, time may have passed, but some of those rationales are still encouraged as reasons to commit, while love and an insatiable desire to grow with a person were, and still are, secondary and tertiary reasons for matrimony.

Women ought to be driven to marry someone not because all their girls are married or because they've been a bridesmaid in 12 weddings and if they make number 13, they'll be cursed into being a bridesmaid forever, but because they are setting a strong foundation for a loving relationship with someone else by participating in a loving relationship with themselves. The more you accept the love space you're in, the better equipped you'll be to answer with confidence (or choose not to answer at all) the questions about your relationship status. Ladies, while in wait, participate: in life, and in exploration! Men ought to be drawn to a woman not because his family likes her, but because he's spent enough time with her to know that she has the qualities that best compliment him, and because he could hardly imagine continuing the rest of his journey without her as his tour guide.

Education and marriage are two beautifully important steps that a man and woman should take with their blinders off. Walk into them lead by your free will, even if it makes sense to no one else. Listen to the beat of your own drum when others think it sounds like nonsense. If the manifestation of your life's work depends on you going to college, by all means, walk through that door, but debt without desire for the sake of arriving at someone else's destination is one thing that should never be socially acceptable. It is our job, the children of opportunity, to define bliss for us. Perhaps it is you; yes you, that are suppose to change the minds of those around you when it comes to the fulfillment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's part of the American Dream too, right?

If you're ready to get the motivation you need to shift gears in your life, click here!

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Sahsha Campbell-Garbutt is a mother, wife, inspirational writer and wellness advocate. Sahsha is CPR/AED certified and is currently studying to become certified in fitness instruction and exercise sciences. In addition to her devotion for wellness, she's a long-standing member of the Screen Actors Guild. Sahsha's writing has been published in MindBodyGreen, Atlanta's Creative Loafing, and Lennox and Parker Magazine. Sahsha is Co-Author of the best selling book, "20 Beautiful Women, Volume 3" and her book, "Life and Light: 101 Meditations, Motivations and Mantras", will be released Fall, 2016. Many enjoy her motivational quotes and writings on life and wellness on her blog.

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