School. College. Work. Family. Work. Retire.
It seem that this is the standard path of life for many people. I will resist the urge to disdain it; not everyone is at liberty to live otherwise, and sometimes you simply have to do what is necessary to scrape by. Rather, I’ll focus this post on how, like a rut or a play’s script, this default sequence is readily accepted and followed, and why I think I should resist it before accepting it.
I am a fairly ambitious person. Not enough to become famous, but enough to achieve impressive things within my own social circles. I want to make things that I can be proud of, things that are a massive improvement over the previous alternative, and things that improve others’ lives. I feel that I wouldn’t be happy settling for the commonality of modern life. I want to be someone special. The problem is that merely accepting the standard is the very antithesis of “special.”
(In this post, I define counter-culture simply as a lifestyle that significantly deviates from the norm of your environment. A person is, as far as I can tell, always intentionally counter-cultural. Counter-cultural people might kindly be referred to as “different” or a reference may be made to the “beat of their own drum.” I mean nothing extreme by the term.)
I feel that living commonly doesn’t expose you to nearly as many interesting situations and opportunities as living counter-culturally. Living commonly will keep you from “broadening your horizons,” that is, from even being able to imagine the full range of possibilities available to you. Those possibilities are important to know because one cannot choose to get out of the rut of commonality unless an alternative is known. Nobody will choose to quit a tolerable job unless he knows of some other job opening. You can’t choose to forsake the default life path if you believe it is the only life path. It may be that the standard path is the best option at any particular moment, but it’s also possible that it’s not. I simply advocate that we should avoid going down the default path until we have taken a sufficient look at the uncommon alternatives. Why consider the alternatives first?
In my experience, living counter-culturally has always been good and enjoyable. For example, the default action after finishing school is college. I chose to skip a year and apply myself at a particular program. I didn’t even bother looking at colleges until after high school graduation. That was a fantastic choice for me, and I’m glad that I resisted those who said it was a bad idea. Taking time off after college and not looking for work is also rather looked down upon by society, yet I chose to do so. Without going into detail, that was potentially the best decision of my life. These are both examples of excellent things that wouldn’t have happened to me if I had done what was normal and expected.
Make no mistake, it’s not comfortable being counter-culture. Not only is it plainly obvious to anyone what the norm of society is, but it is also explicitly encouraged, often by those whose opinions we hold in high regard. Our parents, for example. But this I can say of my own experiences: I feel that I reaped more rewards and greater ultimate happiness from doing the counter-cultural than I might have otherwise, despite the social pressures that came from being different and contrary to normal expectations. This is why
Could it have backfired? Could I have wasted a year after high school, or lost a terrific opportunity after college? Sure, it was a possibility. The risks of the uncommon route seem greater than the risks of the beaten path. But so are the rewards. And I, for one, will always aim to maximize rewards.