Life presents us with a lot of implicit rules. While many of them are helpful and sensible, they don’t always suit all of us. One rule that doesn’t suit many untemplaters is the rule about fitting in.
Society is constructed around the concept of fitting in, of cohesion: most of us abide by laws, for example, because we know that, to some degree, that makes life in our society harmonious. School, then further education or apprenticeships don’t just teach us skills, they prime us for life within this structure — a life of cohesion.
What if You Don’t Fit In?
Let’s face it: in this country today, it’s easier, more reliable, and more relaxing to make a living as a business analyst, designer or consultant than as a pirate, career criminal or professional looter. If you can fit in with what everyone else is doing, you can have it (comparatively) easy: buy a home, have some kids, retire at sixty, play some lawn bowls.
If you don’t want to do that — if fitting into the standard work-life mould doesn’t suit you — then you can feel like there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t subscribe to the tenets of “our modern society”, then people can see you as radical. Edgy, creative, a crank, a flake — whatever you want to call it, the fact is that not fitting in, or choosing not to fit in, can leave you feeling like an outsider.
Pressure from friends, colleagues, and family who are happy to fit in can sharpen the sense that you’re doing something wrong. Why don’t you want to do what everyone else seems so happy with? Why aren’t you simply doing your job, gunning for that all-important next pay rise, and going home to your apartment at the end of the day to watch tv?
You Are Not a Weirdo
If, like me, you grew up in a household that prized education, career advancement, and publicly visible achievement, you might struggle with your need to slip out of the mould and do your own thing. The pursuits you want to follow may not be money-earners; far from pushing you up the corporate ladder, they may ignore the ladder, and the corporation in which it stands, entirely. And this may feel wrong — even dangerous.
That’s exactly how my switch from well-paid, full-time, long-commute employee to self-directing freelance odd-jobbing writer felt. I had a mortgage! I had had a well-paid job! There was a financial crisis on! And all I wanted was to live in the country, grow peas, read, and write. If that didn’t sound like bone-idleness, I didn’t know what did.
If the web’s brought the world’s inhabitants closer together, it’s simultaneously exploded the possibilities we were presented by well-meaning parents and teachers. Now we can see other ways to live — ways that don’t fit in with the societal script, but which inspire us, and suit us better.
Shedding the societal expectations that have been hard-wired into most of us since birth takes time, but it’s not impossible. The more at ease you feel with the fact that you don’t fit the mould, and the more you start to focus on and enjoy what you’re doing, the easier it becomes to ignore the fact that everyone else is sitting in neatly partitioned high-rise offices with their days, their work, and in many cases their lives, mapped out for them.
The most important thing is to keep at it — to keep the tiller steady and learn to steer your boat through the highs and lows that are inevitable when you make a major life change. Over time, not knowing what’s coming next will become exciting rather than scary. And when you wake up in six months’ time in a comfortable bed, and not the cardboard box you expected would become your home when you dropped out of the mould, you’ll realise that you do fit in after all: you fit in with yourself, and your new path feels more right to you than anything ever did before.
As an added bonus, you’ll also fit in with the growing numbers of people doing this kind of thing all over the world.