Following the Crowd
I took the car to work today. On my way to the office I watched everyone slow down and begin the standard 5-mile an hour crawl into downtown at the same place it always begins. A multitude of cars, SUVs and Ford 4x4s each with the same destination. The words “saturated market” crossed my mind inexplicably as I starred ahead of me at the vast sea of chrome. While seemingly unrelated, it really is poignant if you think about it. The 9-to-5 routine is just that: a saturated market. Everyone does it. It’s not just the latest fad. It’s The Thing To Do.
A wise business person will tell you to explore opportunities where others have not dared to tread. This is where the greatest gains can be made. I believe that this can be applied to other areas of life, and not just as a means of squelching your competition in the business world. If you follow the crowd, you are not maximizing your potential. You are just doing what everyone else does.
It takes some true courage, direction, and insight to truly be yourself. We are bombarded with pressure to conform to a standard our whole lives. But if you think about it, how many people who have truly made a revolutionary difference in the world took the easy route and did what everyone else is doing?
I dare you to try this exercise. Think of someone, past, present, or even fictional who you truly admire. It could be Leonardo DaVinci. It could be MacGyver. Now look more deeply at this person you have chosen. What aspects of their personality are appealing? Chances are good that they are courageous, stand for a cause that they believed was right, or are selfless in some way. It’s also likely that they do not follow the crowd. When faced with opposition, they rise to the occasion.
I cannot think of almost any person who made innovative change in this world for the benefit of society who followed the crowd. They blazed their own trail in some form or another and took risks. Everyone from Paul Wellstone to Marie Curie to Jackie Robinson to Greg Graffin went against the grain. Still not convinced?
Think about this perspective: We are all different. No two people are alike. There are over 6 billion humans on this planet, and as far as I know, none of us share the same DNA (even identical twins, who share DNA but not phenotype.) Yet we all share the same planet and are constantly reminded of the correct way to live, and that if you don’t agree with this “correct way”, you are in the minority and will face opposition. For instance; in the United States there are quite a few unwritten rules. Here are some of them:
- Enter the workforce to earn a living
- Have children (procreate) and start a family
- Buy a house
- Accumulate lots of stuff
- Own your own car
- Make lots of money
And if you fall into all six of these categories, congratulations. You have reached the American dream. But I’ll bet anything there are still plenty of things about you that are different, try as you might to be a “success.”
Are you ashamed of the ways you don’t fit in? Don’t feel bad if you do: we are conditioned to hide ways in which we are strange or unusual. It’s odd that we live in a society in which our most interesting facets are shunned and discouraged. Maybe it’s what keeps us from growing as a species too quickly. I’ll just editorialize and tell you this lovely piece of advice straight up. Don’t be ashamed of your differences. It’s what makes you interesting, and ultimately, what could make you personally successful.
And here is a brief synopsis of those six crowd-following paths.
1 – Myth: You need to enter the workforce to earn a living.
Reality: Self-employment can be wonderfully rewarding. Nobody is telling you what to do and you can customize a truly unique career for yourself. I could go on and on, but you’ll have to explore the rest of this site to see more!
2 – Myth: You should have children and start a family.
Reality: This kind of life takes a lot of dedication and hard work. Having children is like adding another full time job. While children are wonderful and you will love them and watch them grow up, the reality is that not everyone should have them. Children actually lead to a decline in marital satisfaction until they move out (numerous studies have stated this.) They also are enormously expensive and will prevent you from having much of a social life or from traveling for years.
3 – Myth: Owning your own home is important
Reality: The housing market right now is tanking. Renting gives a lot of flexibility and frees you from being tied to a mortgage for 30+ years. You don’t actually own the house until you have completely paid this debt off.
4 – Myth: The more stuff you buy, the better
Reality: Read this book
5 – Myth: You need to own your own car
Reality: See this post
6 – Myth: The more money you make, the happier you will be
Reality: This should be re-written to say, “The more money you spend, the more miserable you’ll be.” Money is a strange thing. It’s really not about what you can get with it, but rather what freedoms it affords you. Spending money on stuff is like a bottomless pit. If you are not fulfilled without the stuff, the crap you can buy with it won’t make things any better. There is a certain point somewhere around middle class where the more you have after that doesn’t really make you happier. Now having NO money definitely makes people less happy. But that’s a different story.
It is amazing how when you really dissect all of the little rules we are taught day in and day out you can see that they are mostly bunk. Just because everyone tells you that something is true, or more importantly, it’s what everyone else is doing, doesn’t make it a good thing.
Tomorrow I’m taking the bus to work. I do not like traffic.
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Scott Jackson August 25, 2007 at 2:16 pm
2) annoys me the most. The reason we have a 50+% divorce rate is because so many people believe this, and get married to the wrong person, and/or at the wrong time. I feel no pressure about future relationships or the idea of having children, at least not yet!