The cold winter wind bites my face as I leave the comforting warmth of a huge department store where I just spent hours rummaging through incredible bargains. I’m exhausted from flicking through huge piles of jeans, sweaters and shirts with red price tags on them screaming “buy me” and trying on dozens of pieces. I’m happy with my prey that is safely stored in a shiny bag and that I’m holding close to my body so it doesn’t get carried away by the oncoming traffic that swamps the pedestrian area.
“It’s amazing hwo many people are out here despite these arctic temperatures”, I think to myself as I make my way through the crowd. Even though I’ve only been outside for a couple of minutes, I can already feel my feet and fingers going numb – despite the wool socks, boots and fleece gloves I’m wearing. I feel like going to a quiet and cozy place and I know exactly where to find it.
Another breeze of warm air welcomes me as I open the doors, but this time it doesn’t smell of fabric and artificial colours. It smells of paper and wisdom. People are talking to each other in soft voices and there’s the occasional flicking of pages and the swooshing sound of books put back in shelves.
Now that I’ve bought something to decorate my body with I want to find something for my mind. So I start strolling through the different areas. I pick up some novels and read the summaries on the back, but I put them back on the pile one after the other. I’m not in the mood for a novel. I still have some at home waiting to be read. I’m looking for something different. I make my way to the travel section. I love reading travel guides. Even way before I’m even planning to visit the country I’m reading about. I love imagining what it would be like to visit all the places described and I love marking spots I’d like to see should I ever really go there. But then I remember that I just recently bought a guide book about Cambodia that I should read before buying any others. What else is there to explore in this huge book store? Children’s books? Well, not exactly my age group. Cooking? Not interested. Religion? Naaah.
I lean against the railing, indecisively. I hate leaving a place without getting what I want. If only I knew what I want. I look down and realize that there is a basement floor full of books. I rush to the escalator, full of excitement about what’s waiting for me down there. I stroll past the different shelves. There’s photography and IT and medicine and economy. I end up in front of a table with neatly arranged books. The one in the middle has the word ART printed in big orange letters on the cover. I take a closer look. “The Art of Non-Conformity” – now that sounds like something I might like. I pick it up.
“Oh yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for”, I think as I’ve finished reading the summary and head for the cashier with my new discovery in my hands. On the train on my way home, I start reading. I can’t help but nod in agreement with almost every sentence I read. The people around my must think I’m crazy. I don’t care.
Sometimes it’s weird how things find you exactly when you need them. Or you find them – whichever way you want to see it. For me, there have been quite a few of these stunning moments lately. When I was thinking about changing jobs I got an offer without even applying. And being in a strange phase of self-reflection and trying to figure out which way I want my life to turn from now on, I found this book. I only started to read it yesterday, but I’ve already had a couple of aha moments and found things I’d like to further explore about myself and my life. There’s one particular thing I read that I couldn’t get out of my mind ever since. Because I think I finally know what’s been bugging me all along. And it’s probably the underlying reason that put me where I am right now. It’s the will not to be ordinary, to do something with your life that will not only make you happy, but others as well. And that will eventually leave a legacy, a bit of change in this world.
Now to be honest, I don’t really know what this kind of life is. I do have a clue, a slight picture of what it could be. But I’m willing to explore it in all its depth until I know exactly what it is. What I can start with is the exact opposite of what I want. Because I believe that knowing what you don’t want is the first step to knowing what you do want. So let’s take a look at some of the ways the author Chris Guillebeau lists for leading an average life -and how it compares to my (or your) life.
- Don’t question authority. I think over the years I’ve become quite good at questioning authority, at least in my vicinity. If you consider my parents authority, I’m even a master at it. Just recently, my Mum said to me: “Talking to your sister is so much easier. She doesn’t always disagree or criticize.” Well, unlike me my sister has the ability to keep her thoughts to herself and do what she wants anyway. I however have to speak my mind and make clear why I see things differently. And there are a lot of things. I grew up in a small town neighbourhood where the words “We don’t do that” and “You’re not supposed to” were omnipresent. Of course, as a child I didn’t have any reason to question these “rules”. I was happy with the way things were. But today I can’t help but ask “Why?”. And I know the answer will just be “Because we don’t do that”. Because there is no real reason. In my job, I’ve also learned to stand up for my beliefs and opinions – no matter if it’s in front of my closest workmates or my boss. Because I can’t present something to a client that I’m not totally convinced of. And I’m glad that I’ve acquired a position in which I’m able to do so. So, I think I’m on a good way here. I just have to take it to the next level.
- Think about starting your own business, but never do it. Ok, I have to admit that I’ve never really thought about starting a business. It’s just not something I strive for – unless you extend the term of business. What I could imagine is working freelance or starting a charity. I don’t necessarily think you have to start a business to lead a life that’s anything but ordinary. I think the bigger point here is not to be stuck in dreams, but to turn them into actions. And I’m working on that.
- Sit at a desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work. I do spent 40 hours and more a week at a desk, but in no way am I as unproductive as that. I would get fired if I was for that matter. In fact, there’s nothing I hate more than just sitting around doing nothing. I need to see that my work leads to something, that there’s a result. When I’m under pressure I turn into a machine. A working machine that produces without stopping. If you listen closely you can hear my brain rattling and it’s amazing what it can create when it wants to. It doesn’t even stop at night, so that I’ve found myself waking up with great solutions to unsolved problems in the middle of the night many times. The downside to this is that it only applies to phases of pressure. When I’m not pushed by a deadline or an incredible amount of work that needs to be done at the same time, my brain shuts itself off. It starts to run in circles and it takes me ages to finish even the easiest tasks. I also think this is the reason why I find it so hard to put all my great ideas into action. Because there’s noone there to push me but myself. I believe that I’m highly capable of motivating myself, but I need to find ways to actually keep me focused in the long run. It’s a process, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
- Don’t stand out or draw attention to yourself. I definitely like attention. Who doesn’t? I like being noticed. I want my work to be recognized. I want it to be the best. And I want to be heard. Otherwise I wouldn’t have started this blog. I believe that I have something to say and that it might be of help for people who are in the same place I am. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before I didn’t always like attention. What I’ve always wanted though is to stand out. I’ve never been prone to group pressure. When everybody started drinking and partying their brain cells off, I was a non-alcoholic. I went to parties when I was in the mood for it and I had fun sipping on my coke while others were lying on the toilet in their own vomit. I smoked my first cigarette when I was 18, I have never taken any sorts of drugs (apart from alcohol), never even tried, and I was 20 when I had sex for the first time. Looking back I’m happy I did everything the way I did. Because I stuck to my beliefs and to what I thought was right – not to what the people around me defined as “cool” or something you had to do “because everybody does”. And I have done so ever since. Oh, and if you’ve ever seen me at karaoke you know that I love attention. A lot.
So what do we learn from this? I have tendencies to be ordinary, but I’m aware of them. And in some ways, my life is not ordinary at all. And then again, what is ordinary anyway? I think the most important thing about this is to know that I’m not satisfied (yet) with the way things are and that Im having the urge to change it. And hell, I will.
Note: If you’re interested to find out more about the book and it’s author, check out his website. I’m sure you’re going to read a lot more about my adventures with non-conformity here soon.