The more I observe the world around me the more I'm struck by how many people fight to be themselves so they can be just like everyone else. Everyone wants the right to be different but few people want to exercise it. This was never more obvious than when I recently observed my son and his friends fighting against the suggestion that their school might introduce a uniform. Every student objected, and they won.
The next day I stood outside the school and watched them pour in, in their jeans and hoodies and sneakers (they were even wearing the same brand names). The few kids who were wearing something radically different, a real style of their own, were the least popular. I'm also pretty sure they weren't the ring leaders in objecting to the potential uniform policy.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." If you feel like the pressures of modern day life are making you conform to a conventional way of living when deep down you'd love to step outside the box (or the cubicle), ask yourself these questions.
Why am I living life the way I am?
Why do I live here? Why do I do this job? Why am I studying this major? If the answer to any of these questions contains the name of another person (other than yourself), take a closer look at it. I'm not suggesting selfishness or disregard for your loved ones - there are plenty of cases where your spouse or children or a sick or elderly relative have to dictate certain things about your own life. But if you're doing things because it was someone else's idea or because it's convenient for someone else, question it.
What's your perfect day?
As Annie Dillard puts it: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." So if you hated the way you spent your day today, and you regularly spend your day like that, you are creating a life you hate. We all have to earn a living, and while some of us love our jobs, many of us really don't. Is there a different (perhaps totally unconventional) way you could earn a living?
So what would be your perfect way to spend your day? Think about it. Write it down. Be very specific. Could you do this, or a variation of it, every day? Could you make money from any of the activities that feature in your perfect day? Maybe, maybe not. Break it down. Whoever or whatever features in your perfect day should be part of your everyday life, and in a perfect world, part of how you earn your money. I loved to write and travel long before I sold my first piece as a travel writer. Now I find I'm loving learning about photography. My plan is to start selling my photos. I want every day to be my perfect day, but that's not going to happen if I stay on a conventional career path.
Who's living your life?
Not who's living your life for you right now. Who is living the life you want? If we want something very different from what we have we sometimes assume that it's so different that no one could do it. Do some research. There is already someone who spends their life volunteering on a game reserve in Africa, or guiding scuba diving trips in Mexico, or teaching cookery courses in Italy, or working as a ranger in your local state park. Whatever you want to do, it's only unconventional because not everybody does it. That doesn't mean no one does.
When it comes down to it, you don't really have to dare to be different. You just have to dare to be yourself, and you are different. I guarantee it.