This has probably been said by many others better but it’s been occurring to me so frequently I have to get it on paper (or pixels as it were). A commonality I’ve noticed about the really original characters, the people who go do great things with their lives, is that they can see that most rules people think exist don’t. There are the more usual insights, like realizing you don’t have to go to school to learn, you don’t have to get a job to make money, or that you don’t have to have a location dependent source of income. However, the general principle goes way further than that. You can start dancing during a dinner party. You can do your own science outside of academia. You can go around in a coffeeshop and ask people what their greatest fears and dreams are. You can start a spontaneous salsa dancing lesson with a stranger in a park*. The worst that will happen to you is that somebody might give you a funny look. The best is that you will do what you really want, live your life to the fullest, and actually get the respect of your community for doing so.
Despite all of the analysis paralysis people have about choosing a career I don’t think people truly grasp how much their lives are really a blank canvas. Most of the rules you think are there are simply blinders we willingly put on because of societal expectations. However, unless you’re in a very rigid society, like living under the Taliban, most things are not actually against any enforced rules. I sometimes feel like I’m in a society of mimes behind fake walls who’ve started to believe their act and they look on in shock as I carelessly walk through all of their boundaries with no resistance.
Can this be taught? I don’t really know. I feel like I’ve only ever really met people who either always seemed to know it or spontaneously discovered it. I think for me I learned it when I took a gap year between high school and university and learned I could learn on my own, which opened the floodgates. Maybe for some it can just be enough to read this. Perhaps purposefully trying to find and read about alternative lifestyles could be helpful. For others maybe being around people who think this way could help internalize it. You can read my post on internalizing ideas which might help, although that process works for more concrete ideas, and this one is so broad that the ideas might be harder to incorporate.
Regardless, this is a good tool to try to add to your cognitive toolbox. It will unlock so many more paths that might lead to some much more well-being and fulfillment than you would otherwise have access to.
*Of note, I have done all of these things.
Katherine Xio Savoie
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Charity Science. This blog is where I write about everything, particularly happiness, health, life hacks, and psychology.