Listen to the radio. Watch television. Surf the Internet. You’ll see a bunch of people copying one another. Why? Because what’s popular sells. And everyone wants to sell you something. So we conform. We follow trends and fads just so we can feel we belong, and just maybe, sell ourselves. But what if I told you that conformity is for the weakhearted?
Well, I’m telling you now. It is. As writers, artists, musicians, and bloggers, when we conform to norms and follow the crowd, we’re essentially saying we’ve got no guts, no backbone, no heart. Our work, based on other’s rules, tells the world we’re copycats and have no original ideas. It suggests that we’re not brave enough to stand out and do something unique. Screw that!
Life Is Too Short for Conformity
Of course we have to conform in this world in order to survive. I went to college, got a career, go to work, pay my bills, etc. I’m not suggesting we completely buck the system. What I am suggesting is that we live life on our own terms as much as possible. And with today’s information superhighway that’s easier to do than ever before.
Let’s look at some common advice we often hear, and compare it to a more nonconformist view:
- Get an education. Sure, if it helps you to do exactly what you want to do in life, go for it. Become a doctor or a lawyer, an architect or some other awesome shit. But be willing to consider alternative routes to traditional education. Travel. Become an apprentice. Start a business.
- Get married and have kids. What’s a marriage license but a money-maker for the state? Do you really think God cares if you pay your fee and have your certificate? If you’re a traditionalist, get married by all means. But love is love, you can choose a same-sex partner, be in an interracial relationship, or become a crazy cat lady. As for kids, if I knew then what I know now, I’d think twice. I love my daughter, but it’s been a challenge. It’s okay to choose to not have kids, too.
- Buy a house. They tell you that you’ll get tax write-offs. It’s true. If you spend a shitload and buy a mansion you will. Today’s tax codes don’t do much for write-offs for the average homeowner. Buying a house may or may not be an investment. From experience, I feel much better since selling my house. I’m free to make my next move whenever and wherever I choose. There are also condos, mobile homes, cabins, and tiny houses.
Being Yourself in Today’s World Is Hard
Conformity is about doing what others expect us to do. If we always follow other’s rules, we are no longer individuals. We’re automatons. How weak is that? Just program yourself to be like everybody else? No way!
If I had my way in a perfect world, I’d live in a high-rise condo in the city, only ride a bike for transportation, work part-time, and practice my art(s). I’d also travel broadly, isolate myself in the woods, spend long amounts of time on the ocean, and drive fast cars. Of course, we can’t have it all, but we can (relatively speaking) choose the life we want to live. And we don’t always have to conform to the world’s ideas on how we live.
People think I’m weird because I don’t want to own a lot of crap. They think I’m crazy when I purge things by the trunkload. I could care less what they think. Not caring what others think about you is a huge step in being more original.
Someone’s probably reading this blog post thinking WTF, Dan? How can you be a blogger if you don’t have newsletters and programs to sell? How do you expect people to buy a “just be yourself” message? After all, if we’re bucking conformity, why follow anyone or anything? Good questions.
Nonconformity doesn’t mean you never read a book, listen to a pop song, or follow some kind of philosophy. It doesn’t mean you can’t choose to do and enjoy some things that are accepted by the traditional culture. It just means that you’re willing to take risks outside of absolutes and norms. And if you’re the creative type, that’s important, especially if you want to be known as an original artist and not a weakhearted copycat.
Practice Nonconformity in Your Art
As a creative type myself, I’ve followed the trends. I’ve tried to sound like my favorite rock star. I’ve tried to blog like my favorite blog star. I used to think that in order to gain fame and fortune, one had to fit inside the mold set before us. And yes, there are thousands of musicians, writers, artists, and bloggers who get rich and famous by following the formula. Too fucking many! Everything starts to look and sound the same.
If you don’t want to be a weakhearted conformist, you have to give up the dream of fame and fortune. Instead of trying to be like “them” so you can cash in, just be yourself. Be authentic. Fortune and fame may still come with some hard-ass work.
Your poem doesn’t have to rhyme. Your story doesn’t have to end. Play your music in a minor key, even if it’s not radio-friendly. Make art out of trash. Experiment. Be brave. Then treat your life as your art and your art as your life.