We live in a world where many people see only one path in life, “the right path.” This path goes a little something like this: birth > preschool > elementary school > middle school > high school > college > job > family > death (plus or minus a few details). While this path is works really well for some people, it’s not right for everyone. Not everyone is going to feel comfortable sitting in a classroom. Not everyone feels passionate about a traditional college education. And not everyone finds a 9-5 job all that exciting.
The problem with this is that our culture sees something wrong with the people who think “outside of the path.” When someone isn’t a good test-taker or can’t sit still in class, we try to alter their behavior and teach them to be like the other students. If someone doesn’t work a 9-5 job, we tend to think that they aren’t hardworking or that they are lazy.
In other words, society, as a whole, doesn’t give a whole lot of positive feedback to people who want to live alternative lifestyles. In fact, what really is an alternative lifestyle? In my opinion, such a lifestyle can be defined as: living life on your own terms and creating your own path. I know many people (including myself) that are exploring their own versions of success, routine, and their purpose on this planet. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH LIVING LIFE HOW YOU WANT TO LIVE IT.
If you have trouble sitting in a classroom and prefer to be outdoors, there is nothing wrong with you. If you want to take a year off before college or become self-educated, there is nothing wrong with you. If you don’t see yourself working a traditional job for eight hours of the day – you guessed it – there is nothing wrong with you.
Many forget that it is up to them as to how they live their life, that they don’t have to do what everyone else is doing if it doesn’t feel right. After all, isn’t this how people change the course of history, by seeing the world differently than everyone else?
Now, when it comes to alternative lifestyles, many people don’t know where to begin. They know that something doesn’t feel right, but they don’t know how to fix it. Here’s my advice:
Regain your childlike enthusiasm for exploring.
Childhood is often associated with exploration, freedom, and discovery. Often, many people feel that they are at their happiest when they are children, since they are not yet weighed down by the burdens and responsibilities of life. In order to figure out what you truly want out of life, you must try to rekindle such feelings. Give yourself permission to try, to explore, to fail, and to go after what you want. Write a list of all the things you’ve always wanted to try and then tackle that list, one by one.
When you find a hobby, activity, or career that you feel connected to, you’ll know because time will fly, you will smile without even knowing it, and you will feel a deep sense of relief. Once this happens, pursue this path with all your might. Prove (to yourself, not others) that you have what it takes.
Separate what others tell you from what you feel is right.
This is something that I struggle with. I have a hard time separating my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions from those of others. I am terrible at suppressing my own insecurities when it comes to what others say and do. With that being said, this is something that must be practiced. Slowly, but surely, you must remind yourself that the opinions and actions of others are only temporary. What is permanent is this: how you see yourself. When you look in the mirror, tell yourself that you are wonderful just the way you are. That you believe in the person you see staring back at you. Then say, “My opinion is the only one that matters when it comes to how I am living my life.”
Figure out how to make it work (said in Tim Gunn’s voice).
Living an alternative lifestyle is never easy because, somehow, you must find a way to make a living. If you don’t want a traditional education or job, then you must come up with some way to make it all work. This is where a bit of self-reflection and planning will come in handy. In addition, you must have faith in yourself or else this isn’t going to work. You have to remember that “if there’s a will, there’s a way.” When it comes to figuring all of this out, it helps if you throw out society’s expectations and create your own. What are your realistic expectations for yourself?
Once you figure out your own expectations (which are probably within reach), then you must figure out what you are willing to do in order to live out your dreams. Will you need to rent out a room in your apartment? Move to a cheaper neighborhood? Save up? Budget your time? Keep doing what you’re doing, while slowly making room for the life that you want to live? No matter what the answer to these questions, you must always remember that nothing is impossible if you have the passion to go after what you want.
The main point that I want to get across is this: you are not alone if you don’t feel happy doing what it feels like everyone else is doing. There are many people in this world that have deviated from what was expected of them. There are many people who have redefined “success” and “happiness” in order to fit their own ideals. And that is more than OK. It’s brave.