I spent the first twenty-something years of my life ‘playing by the rules.’
I excelled in high school. I hated letting my parents down. I went to college on a full ride scholarship. I even went to graduate school to get my MBA (mostly because when you spend your life doing what you’re ‘supposed to do’ you don’t really know what you ‘want to do’ after you graduate college).
I accepted a ridiculously high-paying job with the largest consulting firm in the world, doing something that I was insanely good at (notice that I didn’t say ‘liked’). I spent Mondays through Fridays traveling across the country on projects for work, and soon relocated to the company’s office in Washington, D.C.
In the midst of it all I managed to get married (‘after college, of course’) and have 3 kids. By the way, anyone with 3 kids has a story to go along with it; no one intentionally goes from man-to-man to zone defense unless they’re planning to make their own volleyball team.
I was pursuing the ‘American Dream.’ Because that’s what everyone is ‘supposed to do,’ right? Work hard, get a job doing something you’re really good at so that you can make a lot of money, settle down, buy a house, have kids, and save for retirement.
There was just one problem: I fucking hated it. This wasn’t my dream, it was my nightmare.
HOLD IT... LET'S BACK UP
I was pursuing something that I was ‘supposed to’ for the simple fact that I never actually realized there were options. In my defense, I was 25 years old before I realized that you could peel an orange without an orange peeler. I guess you could say I lived in my own world at times.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew there were options. Thanks in part to the movie Space Camp, I entered college fully intending to become an astronaut. Thanks in full to the freshman Intro to Engineering course that was required for all astronaut-wannabes, I changed my major less than 2 weeks later. Full disclosure: I changed my major so many times in college that I ended up taking a course in every single discipline on campus by the time I graduated. I like to tell myself this makes me well rounded. In reality it means that I know just enough about a lot of different things to be great for conversation at a cocktail party.
I grew up in an utterly forgettable small town in Oklahoma, and what I didn’t realize at the time was that there were options for your life. And that my definition of happiness and success might actually be different from the norm. And different from what I was ‘supposed to do.’
By the way, I don’t blame my parents in the least. As far as parents go, they are a 12 on a scale of 1-10. And I still think my dad is one of the smartest people I know (even if he is also the most stubborn). But my parents grew up in an entirely different era, with an entirely different perspective on life. If you played by the rules (for the most part), you could climb a predetermined ladder of success in a career where you worked during the week and played on the weekends. And if forced to choose, safety and security outweighed happiness and fulfillment.
WELCOME TO YOUR
OWN PERSONAL HELL FUTURE
Looking back, it blows my mind to remember all the people I met in college who didn’t really want to be there. Their parents had made them go so that they could ‘do something with their life,’ but really they would rather be traveling the world. Or writing a book. Or starting a band. Or volunteering for a non-profit organization. Or anything else.
For the most part, no one knows what they want to do for the rest of their life when they’re 18 years old (even if they think they do). Those that do are the exception, not the norm.
I remember sitting at the World Domination Summit a few years ago when Michelle Jones, a veteran professor at Concordia University, announced that she was retiring in order to start The Wayfinding Academy, a new type of college aimed at revolutionizing higher education.
“The Wayfinding Academy was founded on the frustrating realization that our culture of higher education is backwards - first you pick a 4-year college, then you pick a major from a list, then you figure out what you’re going to do, and then you try it out.
We want to turn the system frontwards.
That’s because we believe education is our chance to make the world better. What you do with your life matters to more than just you, and when we each live life on purpose, we all thrive.
Yes, this sounds idealistic. But it’s real. We’ve been approved by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission to grant Associate’s Degrees in Self & Society. We are committed to stretching the norms of education from within the system.“
Yes! But what I want to know is why aren’t there more places like this?
News flash: not everyone should go to college, and you don’t need a college degree. Unless you want to be a doctor. In which case you’re actually required to have one of those.
For many of us a college degree is absolutely useless. More than 70% of the people I know are doing something entirely different with their lives than what they went to school for. And while I completely made up that number, I don’t imagine it’s outrageously off base.
The constant pursuit of education and knowledge is important not only for our success in life, but also for our happiness.
But there is a wide variety of ways in which we can educate ourselves that extend far beyond the traditional classroom environment. Many of which are way more effective than the conventional methods that we are ‘supposed to’ pursue.
CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
Somewhere along the way I stopped playing by the rules.
And instead, I started challenging them.
- At what point in time did it become OK for other people to decide what we ‘should’ do with our lives?
- Why do we let someone else’s definition of happiness influence our decisions?
Spoiler alert: Each of us only gets one life to lead - our own.
And it’s ok to live your life the way you choose. In fact, it’s not OK not to.
One of the biggest things that keeps so many people from doing what makes them happy is the fear of judgement.
You see it every day, and perhaps you’re even guilty of it yourself from time to time.
- Maybe someone is doing something differently than how we think it should be done, or that goes against our own personal values.
- Perhaps they look different from everyone else, or they don’t conform to our version of what’s appropriate.
- It might be that they don’t fit our perception of a role they play (woman, man, wife, husband, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, etc.).
- Or that they don’t follow what we value or believe.
- Or any number of other things that are different from our own perspective of how things should be in the world.
If you’ve ever experienced judgement or criticism from someone who has a different opinion of how something ‘should’ be, then you know firsthand how much it hurts. And how deep the scars it can leave behind.
Judgement comes from a place of fear, and the need to validate our own personal choices as ‘right’ and ‘ok.’
Those who judge others tend to speak out against things that make themselves feel inadequate. By shaming someone else, they are attempting to reinforce their own choices in determining what is ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘best.’
Many people have an incredible need for everything to be black or white, right or wrong, yes or no.
When in reality there is just different. And it’s wonderful to be different.
Instead of accepting things at face value, ask questions. Be insatiably curious, and look to broaden your perspective. It’s ok to have a different view than someone else, but it’s important that we seek to understand things from perspectives other than our own.
There is no single ‘right’ way to live your life. It’s up to you to do what’s right for you and to do what makes you happy.
The happiest and most successful people in the world weren’t the ones who followed the rules. They were the ones who challenged them.
EVEN TAYLOR SWIFT'S GOT A NEW REPUTATION
At the top of the list of things I would tell my 18-year-old self is to skip the spring break trip to South Padre Island (alcohol poisoning is no joke).
Right after that, however, would be to stop giving a fuck about what other people think and start experiencing life on my own terms.
As it turns out, the routine and monotony of the corporate world made me feel like a Dementor was slowly sucking the soul out of my life. There was no room for nurturing individuality or new ideas, and the lack of innovation was stifling.
So I left.
And I started my own business - the first of many - pursuing project after project that interested me along the way.
Several projects, some crazy adventures, and a divorce later (not related), I’m still exploring new ideas and pushing boundaries. I fail and succeed every single day, but it’s the relentless pursuit of the things I’m curious about that makes me feel alive.
There is fear and uncertainty that accompany the pursuit of an unconventional life. And others may feel uncomfortable with the choices you make.
But their happiness is not your responsibility - yours is. Just because something doesn’t work for someone else does not make it a bad idea. We get to decide for ourselves what works for us and what doesn’t.
The Unconventional Creative is a judgement-free zone where like-minded people can explore multiple interests, pursue creative adventures and collaborations, share ideas and information, and start the conversations we should all be talking about.
Don’t let the fears of others become your fears.
Instead, let’s work together to broaden our horizons and challenge the status quo.
Do something that matters.
“The call to pursue your best, most honest, most authentic life never makes sense. It costs money and time and relationships and sometimes even your sanity. But I don't think we're here to be nice or be good or not make waves. Your life is a once-in-eternity thing."
- Aditi Khorana, author of Library of Fates