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Opinion: Conforming to society VS living your dreams

If we are charged for water, why aren’t we charged for oxygen? Are both not a fundamental right of human existence?

Why does swearing make you a bad person if it’s just an expression of emotion? Isn’t that beautiful?

Why do we take our hats off at the dinner table and why do we have to eat with the knife in our right hand? Who cares if someone uses their left hand instead of their right?

What am I doing with my life and am I doing it because I want to do it? Or am I doing it because that’s what I’m made to think I should do?

“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Over the last few years, I have been toying with the idea of conformity and how society conditions us into a certain way of living. School, university, job, travel, house, family – the cycle continues.

Working a nine to five job until you retire, and then finally, have the time to do all the things you wanted to do – that’s of course if you live that long. People these days spend more hours of their life at a computer screen plugged into a superficial virtual world than they do physically exploring or being present in the real world. That’s scary.

Wikipedia defines conformity as:

“The act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms. Norms are implicit, unspoken rules, shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others. This tendency to conform occurs in small groups and/or society as a whole, and may result from subtle unconscious influences, or direct and overt social pressure.”

A social pressure that I have realised I don’t want to be a part of. And boom! There it is, the start of my quarter life crisis – If I don’t want to live like that, then how do I want to live?

“Who were you before the world told you who to be?”
― Unknown

The last few years of my life have been rather messy as I’ve trekked down the path of self-discovery.

I’ve had many jobs since leaving school. All successful positions where I was able to excel. But I kept changing because I was trying to find the one thing that satisfied me. It’s only become apparent recently that not any one thing can or will ever satisfy me. I like lots of stuff. I don’t want to do just one thing for the rest of my life. I think that ultimately goes against what life is about.

I’m not stepping out of my comfort zone by sitting at the same desk every day. I’m not experiencing the earth by walking into the same building each day. If I died tomorrow, I would have had no authentic experience of what it is to be human and what it is to be here on earth without the constraints of law and society. To me, that’s not living.

I remember when I was around seven or eight years old, wondering how fast life would pass by and whether or not I’d have enough time to be everything I wanted to be and do everything I wanted to do. No one told me that for ten years or so I’d lose track of my dreams. I turn 27 next month, and I’m pleased to say that I’m back on track, and I now know what I want to do with my life.

When I die, I want to take with me a soul full of experience and appreciation for life, a heart full of wonder and excitement about the world. I’d be still, and I’d be calm because I’d have lived.

“The core of a mans spirit comes from new experiences.”
― John Krakauer

A few months ago I stayed at a friend’s house by the beach. I woke up one morning to no traffic, no car horns, no people. No sound of anything but nature and the crashing waves.

The sand was white and sparkled in the sun as if fairies had sprinkled it with glitter. A curved line of seashells trailed the length of the beach, marking the last high tide.

The water was the perfect shade of blue, so clear that you could see the ocean floor. It was quite magical.

At either end of the beach were towering cliffs and jagged rocks hiding secret little bays. The earth was raw and vulnerable but stood proud.

Everything looked untouched and perfectly placed. I couldn’t help but feel at one with nature here. I stood with my feet in the sand staring into the ocean and instantly I felt re-plugged back into reality. The pressure of everyday life floated away with the wind. The bills. My ‘to do’ list. The dress I wanted to buy. It all didn’t matter anymore. My priorities were re-balanced.

There is something magical and energizing about places and moments like these. This kind of experience goes easily missed, especially for a busy city dweller like myself.

As I sat on a bench looking out over the beach, I thought to myself – I would kill to live somewhere like this. Somewhere where I can experience this kind of beauty and energy every day. Where the realities of life are less materialistic and more in line with what we were created to be. I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face. I thought: If I were a mermaid I’d live here. I totally wish I could live here.

I dismissed the option of life here almost as quickly as I rejected the idea that I couldn’t ever be a mermaid. Of course, I couldn’t be a mermaid – but when I think about it, what’s stopping me from living in a place like this? What’s holding me back from being me and living the way my soul wants to live?

Conformity. I’ve been caged by society’s tendency to follow the heard. The way everyone follows the same cycle of behaviour because we’re conditioned to believe that brings us a life of success. That if you step away from this norm it’s bad or frowned upon.

But why does this particular way of living equal success? How do you measure success? What is success? Who’s to say what is the ‘right’ or ‘better’ way to live?

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

My real happiness and successes lie in my five-year-old daughter and in doing something that I love every day of my life. It sounds simple, but it’s not.

I’m a very impulsive person. I do lots of things. I can’t sit still for long. I want to learn new stuff, see new stuff. I love stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s what makes me, me. It’s what gives me purpose.

I’ve always thought I’d like to do something amazing with my life, be a world changer and do good things. I find it interesting that the world’s most successful and influential, entrepreneurs, inventors and explorers all broke the rules of conformity and created new paradigms of thought, some didn’t even finish school!

I’d like to think that I’d never let myself be held back from doing something that made my heart smile and fulfilled my soul, I sure as hell want this belief instilled in my daughter. Yet, here I was at the beach, realising that I had denied myself a life that’s completely within reach without even a second’s thought because I’ve conformed to a way of living that supposedly would bring me the ‘success’ I needed.

Success being a nice car, a house in a ‘nice’ suburban area with good schools. A nine to five job that gave me steady income. Enough money to buy nice groceries, the $30 wine instead of the $15 wine (which actually tastes just the same). Enough money to have my daughter’s birthday party at the next trending venue with a cake that’s iced with fondant and looks kind of like a wedding cake but a kids’ version (why do we do this!?).

These things are great, don’t get me wrong. A stable home, a good life. It’s all good. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s not enough. Humans are deeper than that. These superficial things would never satisfy me – and that’s why I and many others continue searching. Because our definition of success is based within ourselves, not in materialistic items.

Where can I find a balance between the two ways of living?

I always thought that if I followed my talents then I’d be fulfilled and satisfied. But I’m struggling with this idea now.

I feel like even the word ‘talent’ has superficialised and materialised part of the essence of a person’s soul. It’s boxed up a part of you that puts magic into this world and turned it into a product. Something you could sell, something you could make money off while just assuming you’d be happy doing it every day for the rest of your life. After all, it’s what you’re good at so you must love it enough to do it every day for the rest of your life right?

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
― Christopher McCandless

And so here we are. The crux of the dilemma. The finding of balance and the freedom to live a life outside of the heard.

The difficulty in saying yes to this lifestyle means unwinding and letting go of years of conditioning. Almost everything I know to be ‘true’. It will be a hard and slow process.

But I’m excited because I have finally reached a point in my life where I’m able to think for myself. I have been able to unplug from the matrix – so to speak – and wake up to the more truthful untouched side of life and existence.

From now on I’m going to focus on few specific things-

1. I won’t buy magazines nor read gossip articles on websites.
2. I will avoid commercials and advertising as much as possible – I don’t need whatever they’re selling!
3. I will stop visiting shopping malls when I’m bored.
4. I will adventure and explore more. Bush walks, historical sites etc.
5. I will write a list of all things I want to do and learn about and I’ll start doing them.
6. I’ll live for moments more, and be present, and stop stressing about the future!
7. I’ll start thinking for myself more. Less out of habit and more out of the heart.

I challenge you to make a short list of things you could change in your life. I truly believe every single person would be happier if they started thinking and doing for themselves instead of for others.

Perhaps you are happy where you are, content and satisfied. Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.

So maybe this could be a challenge, to find something you’re not okay with and to see how you could change yourself or the world to better it.

Just a thought.

“When you are in the final days of your life, what will you want? Will you hug that college degree in the walnut frame? Will you ask to be carried to the garage so you can sit in your car? Will you find comfort in rereading your financial statement? Of course not. What will matter then will be people. If relationships will matter most then, shouldn’t they matter most now?”
― Max Lucado

Samantha-Jane Harding
Samantha-Jane is a multi-talented 27-year-old with a passion for communication, entertainment, and adventure. She graduated from the NZ Radio Training School in 2015 with a Diploma in Radio Journalism.
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