A life script is a common set of patterns that people use to structure their movement through life. People don’t usually think about them, but they’re very real. In the United States circa 2020, the middle class has a default life script that goes something like this:
- Grow up, get decent enough grades
- In high school, apply yourself so you can get into a good college
- Get a college degree, enabling you to
- Get a good job to support yourself.
- Save money in a 401K plan throughout your professional life
- (Probably) at some point get married and have a few kids. While not ideal, increasingly the expectation is that there will be a divorce in there somewhere too
- Retire to travel and enjoy your grand children
Scripts aren’t a bad thing: societies need scripts, because a lot of societal members are drifting, or aimless. Choosing a direction for your life is big and scary, and so it makes sense to have some defaults.
They act like moving walk ways. Society needs productive taxpayers to keep going. And so if you don’t choose a direction, one will be provided for you. And that direction will deliver you into a generic trajectory that will be basically productive for society.
Scripts can be negative: In disadvantaged communities, many feel that there is a societal “school to prison pipeline“. When society lacks structures necessary for dealing with challenging situations like poverty, disability, and badly broken home environments, other defaults (such as the justice system) can kick in. Terms like ghettoization also allude to negative life scripts which are in place, but were not really designed or intended by society.
Scripts can also be specific to locales, and time periods, as this illustrates:
This exchange points out the cultural value that can be attached (and later taken away) from a life script, and how particularly within affluent communities, they can shift much as fashions do.
The Problem With Scripts
Scripts are like a bus ride: everybody is going to the same place, and you’re not driving. I find they work best for people who are drifting and don’t have purpose, and the rare person who considers them deeply and wants what the script implies. There are very few in the second category, as far as I can tell.
Anyone can escape the life script, but it requires energy because the rest of the world tacitly assumes you’ll follow the script. Because departure from it can cause you consequences socially, most people won’t escape the script unless they have a firm purpose. That purpose and vision is what drives a person to choose a new path and take the consequences of society’s judgments.
Of course once you hit escape velocity, you’re now stuck in a new problem: how to design your own custom script without guidance. How to do that will have to be a topic for another day.