Why We Conform
When you start getting into entrepreneurship and all the literature about it, you hear a lot about how hard it is. There are many challenges: building something people want, getting customers, etc. If it were easy, everyone would start their own business and get rich.
But I think one of the hardest, yet commonly overlooked, aspects of entrepreneurship is the nonconformity and the uncertainty that it leads to.
When you decide to start a business, you are choosing a “less beaten path.” A large majority of the population prefers full time jobs, so you are choosing a road less travelled.
By taking that road, you set off on a different direction. You are abandoning the majority, you are abandoning conformity, and you are abandoning all the people around you who have chosen to take the other road.
When you go down the road of entrepreneurship, you have a lot more uncertainty, a lot more risk, and a lot less structure.
You don’t have people telling you what to do every step of the way. There are fewer educational resources to help you in going through the path unlike a job, so with this comes a lot of uncertainty.
This might sound pretty simple on the surface. But I think taking this nonconformist road, this path of uncertainty, is extremely challenging because it goes against conditioning we’ve had since birth…
After you are born, at a very young age, you go into pre-school. Next, you go into kindergarten and elementary school.
It’s actually illegal not to go to school. You are forced by law to go to school. You are told what to do and if you don’t, there are punishments for you and for your parents or guardians.
Once you do go to school, you live inside, at a desk, all day long. You are force fed information. Basically, you’re being told what you need to learn. You are being forced to conform to a very very rigid structure.
I think this is challenging for most children, particularly for boys. I think boys aren’t wired to sit in a classroom all day at a young age. I think it’s really against nature for a boy to be forced to do this all day long, everyday.
I think they are more prone to learning for themselves. Exploring, experiencing, using their hands, etc. I think this is true, at least to an extent, for girls as well, but particularly with boys.
So, you are forced onto this path. You are thrown into this rigid structure. And if this structure does not agree with you, if you don’t feel like you should be sitting at a desk every day, then you are told you have something wrong with your brain and you need to take medication.
This can happen to you if you are not doing a good enough job consuming and repeating back all this information that you are being force fed. If you have trouble sitting still. Or if you would just rather be doing other things.
You aren’t given alternative options. Instead, you are probably going to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and prescribed medication that you’re ordered to take everyday.
You’ve indicated that you don’t like this path that you are forced to take and you resist it. Maybe you find it challenging, or maybe you just don’t enjoy it. Now that you’ve shown signs of not conforming, you get diagnosed with a mental illness. You are going to be given a drug like Adderall or Ritalin that’s going to sedate you. It’s going to take your natural biology and adjust it and force it back into conformity.
So, with these pills that you must take everyday, you are back on this track again.
Now, you have to do well in school so you can get good grades and so you can go to the next grade level. If you do not go to the next grade level or you do not get good grades, you are an outcast. You are probably going to be criticized by your peers, your parents or your teachers.
You get to high school. Then, you have to do well in high school so you can go to college. If you don’t go to college, your life is — you believe it whether or not it’s true — it’s over.
I know now that it’s not true, but at that time I did not see any other options than going to college. I can say pretty firmly that I believed that if I did not get into a good college that I did not have many possibilities in my future.
Once I got to college, I had to do well so that I could have the grades so that I could get a good job or go to a good graduate school. I worked my ass off through this and suddenly I was twenty-one years old and I had basically been in school almost my entire life, conforming to the whims of teachers and my peers.
So I want to ask you, how many people do you know that did not follow this path? How many people do you know that were home-schooled? I personally know one that was home-schooled.
Only one person. One out of thousands of people I’ve met.
How many people do you know that chose not to go to college?
I think I know two people. That’s two people out of the thousands of people I have met that have chosen not to go to college. I know that there are people that haven’t gone for reasons like they weren’t able to financially, or based on grades, but how many have chosen not to go?
So let’s say you make it through college and you get a job. Now, you’re told exactly what to do by your boss or else you get fired and you’re out on the street. You’re completely dependent on your employer to pay your rent or to pay your mortgage or to provide for yourself or to provide for your family.
How many people do you know that have decided not to get a job? That decided to start a business instead of getting a job? Decided to provide for themselves, decided to make their own decisions?
Growing up, through my childhood, through my college and right after college, I hardly knew anybody that did this. I had a few family friends that had their own business, but that’s about it. I’ve certainly met a ton more people since I got into entrepreneurship, but prior to then I didn’t really realize it was a viable option.
What I’m trying to say is that all along the way, social norms are like gravity working against you from starting a business.
The conditioning can work out great if you enjoy it and are good at it. Otherwise it can be quite challenging to overcome.
One of the hardest parts about entrepreneurship for me has been going on this non-conformist road. Going on a different path than most of the people around me.
At times I’ve been jealous of them in their stable jobs, getting paid, getting raises, getting bonuses and promotions, and in some cases not working as many hours as I am. They’re comfortable and secure, and I’m working my ass off, stressed out of my mind, hustling hard.
Accepting the nonconformity has been one of the hardest parts. It really hasn’t been figuring out how to do marketing and all that. Of course that’s been hard, but it hasn’t been as challenging as taking a path unlike almost anyone I knew.
The biggest challenge really has been this mindset of non-conformity. I didn’t even realized it until recently.
So while I encourage you to educate yourself on the tactics and the how-to’s, I think that preparing yourself mentally is just equally as important. Whether it’s starting a business or moving to Europe, if you’re doing something that’s a little off the beaten path, it’s not always easy, and not just for the obvious reasons.
In order to overcome the stress nonconformity will cause, the first step is acknowledging what the social norms are, that you won’t be conforming to them, and understanding why it will be so hard. You can either let it stress you out like did did for me, let it stop you from trying at all, or you can understand it and make a more rational decision to ignore it and press on.