'Get a life,' but you have to decide if it's your own

Out of the Woods: Nita Nettleton

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

Of all the tired phrases of our generation, few are more frustrating to me than "get a life." Somewhere in the last few years, "get with the program" must have expanded to a much larger assignment for self-improvement. I never really minded being asked to get with a program, since I am the first to admit I probably wandered off. But lately, people like me who stray, whine or show that we are not immediately with a perceived program, are told to get a life. It seems like an abrupt and rude thing to say. Who would need such a prompt? We like to think we all have lives, but perhaps they are not our own.

Remember a few decades ago when colorful and diverse clothing became popular? We were all urged to do our own thing, but most of us looked remarkably alike as we conformed to the nonconformity. We sorted ourselves into standard identities by our dress, doing our own group thing. (Only occasionally were the group uniforms complicated, such as with designer jeans.) We are still doing it. After all these years, many of us still follow fashion for colors and fabrics. Can anyone give me any good reason to honor a capricious palette standard set by people far away whom you don't even know? Can anyone tell me what the heck exactly taupe is? And why, with all the choices available, do we still buy clothing made out of things that bleed or shrink when they get rained on?

It's the conformity thing. People are drawn to the lives, habits and attributes of others, the more like ourselves or our vision of ourselves, the better. That's why we watch so many television shows. We like to see and hear how others deal with situations we may find ourselves in. Then we will know what to say and do, because we learned it. Take Trekkies, for example. Maybe one will be faced someday with knowing exactly when to fire the photon torpedoes or eject the core. When William Shatner told them to get a life, he should have been more specific. He meant, "Get your own life," didn't he?

It's not easy to keep to your own life and avoid drifting into the lives of other people. There is a lot of pressure out there to eat, drink, drive, wear and listen to the popular products, say and think the popular things. I worry each time I buy a pizza that I was a pawn in a manipulative advertising effort. Are the toppings my toppings or ones I saw savored by an upwardly mobile, thin, blonde woman in a tutu in an ad? Sometimes you can't tell if something was your idea or a marketing suggestion. Here is a marketing suggestion for you. Create your own My Life kit to carry at all times. It is a simple list of 10 things you like, do and dream about and a quick biographical sketch outlining who you are. Whenever you are faced with a decision, pull out the list and let your character guide you. Basically ask yourself, what would I do? When some mean, shallow person tells you to get a life, show your bio and prove that you already have one. If you are too busy to create a My Life kit, I can offer you a selection of generic ones or make a designer one for you.

OK, those of you who weren't paying attention, get with the program. Having a life may appear to be optional, but sooner or later you will be told to get one. I can't stop that, but I may be able to modify it with a "get your own life" campaign. I just have to market it in a way that will have strong enough group appeal. I'm trying to get Shatner as Kirk to be the spokesperson.


Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

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