Inspiring stories of breaking through societal norms and expectations


  Inspiring stories of breaking through societal norms and expectations

We all want to be part of a society that is moving forward and evolving. We want it to evolve in ways that are recognizable and predictable, but also beyond our expectations. This is the story of people who are breaking through these societal norms and expectations — not by pushing against them, but by embracing them for their own purposes.

In this post you’ll read about where we are now, where we have been, how these people broke through societal norms to find themselves in unexpected places like a Buddhist monastery or at the head of a company with over 500 employees.

Society Expectations

We are taught how to act in our families and in our schools, within our communities and through the media we consume. By the time we finish high school, college or university, we have learned how to behave in many social situations.

From then on, it is often a matter of making minor changes to those behaviors for each new situation that comes up: at home with family, at work with colleagues or when networking. It’s a different world now than when we were younger. Liberal societies and governments can be ‘gender blind’ while individuals are still very much ‘gender aware’ and ‘gender sensitive.’

Gender segregation is still very much alive and well. Sports, activities, hobbies that were once either/or — male or female — are now ‘coed.’ There is a place for everyone and everything: gay, straight, average Joe or Jane. This ‘coed’ world we live in has similarities with a democracy: all voices and opinions are welcome and valued equally be they from different genders, races or other groups of people.

This is the stereotype you have been living with your whole life…but it has always been changing.


We are all aware of the knowledge we have acquired at school, university or work. This knowledge is often referenced in publications and notices, but rarely do we ever take the time to reflect on this knowledge. We simply take it for granted. Think: “I learned that…” or “I have learned that…” without taking the time to consider what it actually means.

This is a very normal response, just as one would expect when one has been immersed in a certain culture their whole lives and has had no other experience.

But we are not stuck in this ‘experience bubble.’ We can break out of it and investigate the meanings and values of our knowledge.

The three major ways in which humans gain their knowledge is from experience, listening to others, or reading books. We learned a lot of this information as we were growing up. It is often quite difficult to deconstruct these assumptions and understand the deeper underlying meanings in those cultural assumptions that guide behavior and decision making. We can learn from this process how to apply these cultural ideas to our lives in new ways. This is what we call breaking through societal norms and expectations.

Societal norms are learned values related to a certain culture, social group, or local environment. They are broadly accepted norms. They can be the rules of a game, the beliefs of certain groups, behavioral codes and laws, religious rituals and traditions, even communication styles. It is not necessary that an individual agree with all societal norms; however they must conform to some degree for the smooth functioning of the society. Some social scientists have suggested that it is important for individuals to develop ‘awareness’ and ‘skills’ to break through these norms in order to function effectively in a globalized world.

Societal expectations are well-learned responses to certain situations or conditions. They are values that one can choose to adopt or reject, as they form part of a person’s identity. They also form the foundation for an individual’s self-esteem, and someone who has broken through these norms will often have an enhanced sense of their self-worth.

Whatever your belief on societal norms may be, it is important that you do not feel bound by them. It is important that you learn how to break through them and find happiness in this world. The success stories below will help show you how to break through societal norms and expectations and live a more fulfilling life.

The Role of Religion and Spirituality

Religion and spirituality are often considered to be critical factors in breaking through societal norms and expectations. This is due to the fact that religion is considered to be a very important part of the ‘consensus reality’ of any given society. It is a shared cultural value or norm. If something is not included as part of religion, then it usually means it is illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate in some way. More often than not, that which is not within the realm of spirituality does not express itself in a socially acceptable way.

I include this section in the context of breaking through societal norms and expectations because of the many other factors that play a role — self-awareness, education, communication skills, finances and/or technology.

In many ways religion is also a form of societal norms and expectations. It often reflects cultural values. For example it might be common for people to believe that they have been chosen by some higher power to do a certain thing very early in life. One could say that this belief is a form of divine guidance or influence from an ‘outside observer’ who may have some kind of influence in one’s life (that may even be interpreted as good).

Belief in this higher power is often a form of ‘expectation’ or belief in some kind of divine authority. For example, it is not normal to believe that you can fly, but it is common for many religions to teach that one can. In this way, religion and spirituality are very much a part of human development as they are based on many previously learned facts and beliefs. This affects how our behaviors and interaction with others may be affected.

Breaking through these norms has been very important throughout history, especially during time periods when social values have changed significantly due to technological developments (e.g.: the Industrial Revolution; the Information Age).

This does not mean that a person can claim to just “believe” in something of this kind without evidence. To believe in something means that one places their trust in it and believes that it is real or valid. It does not mean that one just ‘thinks they know’ something.

The following stories will help break down how we can break through societal norms and expectations, especially the role of spirituality as it relates to our personal development.

The Parable of the Early Years: Treasures and Potentials

There was a little boy who was always told by his parents how smart he was.

Conclusion: ‘He did not realize his own potential.’ The little boy tried to please his parents by doing what they wanted him to do, but he was never really happy at school. He always felt that there was something else out there that he was not being shown or guided towards.

The little boy grew up and married a girl who said she loved him very much. This led to the birth of multiple children, whom they both doted upon. All seemed well and good in the family unit until one day when the husband suddenly had a heart attack and died. The wife was devastated as she lost her only means of support in life — her husband.

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