You might have noticed that you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone blogging about their supercool life online; the places they travel to; the mountains they’ve climbed, the famous and inspiring people that they’ve met.
That rings a bit hollow to me. I understand that that’s cool for those people, but it’s nothing I really care about. After a couple of decades of exploring fringes and counter-cultures, I feel comfortable in attesting that I am a fairly conventional person.
I like to be married. Although I don’t want kids so I suppose that’s slightly unconventional.
I like to have a tidy house and a beautiful yard, and I’m willing to pay too much to a mortgage to do it.
I don’t have much of an urge to travel. At the most, I want six-month sabbaticals in charming locales, so until I’m prepared to rearrange my life to make that happen, no travel.
I don’t do things just to prove something to myself (anymore). This means that all my wild and crazy tales are deep in my past, where I want them to stay.
I firmly believe that my life should be regular and orderly on most fronts in order for me to devote myself to a few challenges on one or two aspects of my life. Otherwise, you spend too much time trying to keep your life from going off the rails rather than on the particular parts that are compelling to you.
There are one or two things about me that are really odd and unconventional, but by and large I’m not an outlier.
Few people are, I believe. We just tend to focus on the ways in which we differ from our peers rather than the ways in which we are similar.
Mindfully Choosing the Default Mode is Not Settling
I really like Ramit Sethi’s book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. In it, he talks about the trap that most people fall into, which is that they do what the people around them do. If their friends are weekending in Aspen, that’s what they do. If people around them go out for tapas three nights a week, so do they.
The point, he say, is not do these things or not do them, but to decide whether they are of value to you. So then he profiles a woman who has a $6000 a year shoe budget. Ramit himself only ever flies first class and stays in the best hotels.
Likewise, I have tried the defaults and non-defaults in my life, and for a lot of things, the defaults are just right.
The trouble is that for most people, they’ve never tried the unconventional on for size. Not that you have to try swinging before you decide on monogamy; some things you just already know what you prefer. But most people have to broaden their experience in order to decide what they really prefer. Even the Amish send their kids on rumspringa so that they can see the world they’re giving up to become “Plain Folk.”
So while there is a LOT of encouragement for people to try new things, I don’t feel like I ever see anyone saying, “Yeah, I hiked east Asia, spent a lot of time in Burma, but ultimately, I missed South Carolina and decided to come back home.” I think there’s a stigma about saying that, like you’re not cool enough to embrace the unconventional forever.
I liken it to the persistent squabble in the feminist movement, where people say “Feminism is about choice,” but then judge, if only slightly, the people who become stay at home parents. “Are you sure you really want that? You could be ANYTHING, you know!” It’s hard not to hear that as a putdown.
Likewise, other forms of conventionality are mocked and disparaged, by people who really ought to know better. “Oh, you have a job? You trade time for dollars? You live in a subdivision? Let me guess, it has good schools. I homeschool MY kids.”
The funny thing about conventions is that they became conventions for a reason. They are often rational (from one perspective or another) and many people benefit from the structure they provide. We ALL benefit from the structure it provides. Convention is what keeps society stable, and stable, democratic societies like this one are the ones that gave us the opportunity for our own rumspringa, and to ultimately buy a cute little house in a quiet subdivision and raise up 2.5 kids, scrape to send them to college, and eventually retire to Florida. Or any variation on that we choose.
We can draw attention to our differences: Hi, my name is Shanna, I’m a serial entrepreneur, I’ve worked on the oil rigs, I’ve had a brain injury, and I’m fairly nutty about systems.
Or we can draw attention to our similarities: Hi, my name is Shanna. I live with my husband and two dogs in Central Virginia. I’m an Liberal Arts major and an introvert who likes to read and write. I love coffee and hate people who drive like maniacs. And also, I own my own business.
That last one sounds kinda boring, doesn’t it? But, when I sound a lot like you, and I also do cool things, talk to cool people and so on, it makes it obvious that there’s not too much difference between you and me, and you can be cool too.