Individuality is a funny thing, quite often the people who seek it the most end up having the least. As humans, we have been endowed with free will, yet we bypass it with surprising frequency to follow the herd. You can see it everywhere: high school kids who want to stand out and be different do it by joining a group of Goth kids all dressed in black who are subsequently indistinguishable from each other. College kids wanting to rebel and show their independence and individuality do it by getting the exact same tribal tattoo of the year as 15 of their friends.
Nowhere is this herd mentality as apparent as in the Lifestyle Design community. After reading The Four Hour Workweek, the kids must have figured that apparently the way to show your individuality was to move to some piss poor, tropical country and make a living selling e-books about moving to some piss poor tropical country to sell e-books. Soon enough, hundreds of kids in their early twenties gather like lemmings to live on the beach in some piss poor tropical country, trying to sell e-books about writing e-books about selling e-books about living in a tropical country selling e-books. Nice work if you can pull it off, though I suspect there’s a limited market for selling e-books filled with truisms, old platitudes and other profound wisdoms amassed over a long life of.. eh.. 23 years?
There is nothing inherently wrong with being part of a herd, if you made an informed decision based on what you wanted, that’s great. But it gets a bit ridiculous when people criticize the “status-quo” while espousing the virtues of their own supposedly unique life choices when they proudly share a label describing their lifestyle with an industry and thousands of others doing exactly the same thing.
Rebelling Against That Other Herd
If you followed in the steps of others to rebel against the status-quo and assert your individuality in exactly the same way as hundreds, possibly thousands of others, are you really doing something very unique? This is where I think a lot of Lifestyle Designers, as well as their critics go horribly wrong. I just don’t get the obsession people have with other peoples life choices. To me, the obsession with others is the worst kind of herd behavior there is. At what point do you even need to compare yourself to others to feel good about yourself? If that is what you need, then I’m pretty sure you either took a wrong turn somewhere or simply suffer from low self esteem.
When you start criticizing other peoples life choices because they are different to yours, you are criticizing someone for the simple reason that they are not part of your herd. If you want to live on a beach and sell e-books, then good luck to you, but choosing to live in the community where you grew up, in the house of your late grandparents, having 2.5 kids and driving a Volvo to the office is a perfectly valid life choice as well. In fact, I hear having a settled home- and family life isn’t all bad for your health either.
The same goes the other way around too: If you want 2.5 kids, white picket fence and a Volvo, that’s all good and well, but if someone else wants to have a look around the world instead of doing what you have done, that too is a perfectly valid choice. Do whatever makes you happy, if someone else chooses another path, why should it be any of your concern?
Lifestyle Design: It’s Just The 80/20 Rule Repackaged, Dummy!
You have to give it to Tim Ferriss, he is a marketing genius: he basically took the hundred year old Pareto Principle, repackaged it with some examples of practical applications for your personal- and business life and made a fortune out of it. But in repackaging it he created an unfortunate unintended consequence: a lot of people missed out entirely on the scientific and philosophical implications and insights of realizing that a minority of causes create a majority of outcomes.
Instead many young men and women (well, mostly young men) interpreted Ferriss’ illustrative anecdotes literally as a checklist or quick-fix formula on what to do and how to live. In doing so, they missed out on the whole point. The pursuit of non-conformity has simply turned into conformity with a different herd, and we’re right back to the Goth kids in your old High School.
Being Part of the Herd Is Fine (You Can’t Avoid It)
Being part of a herd is okay. As humans, we are social animals, we need interaction, we need a herd. It is inevitable that we will identify with- and be part of many herds throughout our lifetimes, we will change herds as we move through different phases of our lives, we might even be part of multiple herds at once (I’ve heard of soccer-mom bikers).
However, choosing a herd should be a conscious choice based on what you want to do with your life at that point in your life, not a choice based on some quick-fix formula or trying to rebel or wanting to hang with the cool kids. And for God’s sakes, stop being so obsessed with the herds other people choose, as long as it’s not something like NAMBLA, I’m pretty sure their lifestyle is just as valid as yours, even if it is a bit different.
Wille is a wannabe-entrepreneur with multiple failures under his belt, over the years he has forged a close friendship Jack Daniel’s and been known to resort to various acts of immaturity in a desperate bid to hang on to what little youth he has left in him. You can read his blog musings here or follow him on twitter here.
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