Non-conformity, rebellion or something else?

I’ve often considered myself as a bit of a rebel; primarily relating to the life path that I chose in being an entrepreneur.

When all of my friends from Varsity took jobs and got onto the corporate ladder, I quit my only corporate gig after six weeks to work on my own thing full-time. And from there, many decisions that I have made since (many of which were linked partly to the success — and subsequent time and money — I had as an entrepreneur) would fall in the non-conforming bucket.

That’s the story I’ve told myself at least in support of this self-image as a bit of a rebel.

I’m not buying that as much anymore.

My wife recently started a conversation by saying that she thinks we should enrol Adii Jr for some math classes (he turns 6 in November). She continued with a motivation for her consideration: “It seems like all of the other kids in his class is doing it.”

I immediately started smiling when I realised that she was going to reference what others were doing. She responded with: “I knew you were not going to want to do something that feels like conformity.”

It looks like I’ve at least been good enough about perpetuating this self-image of non-conformity and rebellion that those closest to me believe it to be true as well.

What I’ve realised though is that it’s not about confirming or not confirming and I only tend to act in a rebellious way when either of those options gets forced upon me.

What it’s about for me instead is about knowing and understanding why I’m doing anything. I can’t persuade myself to do anything just because others / the majority are doing something for example. This doesn’t seem very purposeful, thoughtful or conscious even. It also doesn’t seem like I can experience life in full when I don’t know why I’m doing the things I’m doing (because how do I even know what my alternative options are?).

In Rising Strong, Brené Brown talks about our Shitty First Drafts (i.e. the stories that we tell ourselves and the supposed meaning that we attach to our experience) in tough situations and decisions. I believe that when we conform, we are putting ourselves at risk of subscribing to someone else’s Shitty First Draft. This is why it’s important for me to know and understand something on a deeper level before I can adopt that.

There are most definitely things that I do without questioning them, like driving on the left-side of the road. Beyond being a law today (which would lead to many accidents if everyone didn’t abide by it), I don’t necessarily know how and why it got decided that driving on the left-hand side is the best thing to do. That said though; I’m also not sure questioning this will lead to a different outcome for me because driving on the right-side of the road doesn’t feel significantly different.

So there is probably a case of picking one’s battles in being rebellious about conformity, where I’m sure it can be a very negative experience if we were to question every status quo in our lives, all the time.

Conformity for the sake of conformity though is a sub-par solution to most situations. Don’t try to be the non-conformist all the time, but having a greater awareness of why we do the things we do, should mean a richer, more purposeful, meaningful and conscious life.

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Photo by Robin Vet on Unsplash