They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. My name is Brendan and I hate on other people’s dreams.
Before you start thinking that I’m a big asshole going around putting people down, I want to clarify that I usually quarantine those thoughts in the back of my mind.
Whenever I hear seemingly outlandish and unconventional goals, I couldn’t help but think toxic thoughts like “well that’s dumb”, “that will never happen”, “he will never make any money doing that”, or my all-time favorite “what’s the end-goal in that?”. It wasn’t until I lost sight of the end-goal in my career path and found myself unemployed, sitting on a beach in San Diego that my mindset started to shift.
My corporate drone phase.
Since childhood I have always chosen the conventional path. The path that our teachers told us lead to happiness and success. I got good grades in order to get into a good college and find a steady job. After checking all three boxes I found myself in New York City working for one of the largest Investment Banks in the world. I was on the fast-track to success.
However, at 26 years old I was miserable and felt like my story was already written for me. Unfortunately, the story wasn’t a very interesting read; commute to work on the subway, run spreadsheets in Excel for 10 hours, commute home on the subway, repeat.
Meanwhile, people around me were living on their own terms as small business owners, designers, travelers, performers, artists, film-makers, adventurers, and musicians. These were the same people whose dreams I would have previously scoffed at.
I did all of the things I was supposed to, right? All of those unrealistic millennials chased lofty dreams; they are supposed to be losers, right?
I was wrong.
After seven years, I finally hit my breaking point and decided to quit my job and move to San Diego.
I spent the following six months sitting on the beach, wondering if I had made a huge mistake, and applying for any positions that loosely fit my experience. The thought of going back to corporate America made me sick to my stomach, but I felt directionless and kept applying.
I began to wonder, maybe the people I had been dissing for years had it right all along? And maybe I had been hating on their dreams because I envied them for following their passion – or even having a passion for that matter – and being in-charge of their own destiny.
I decided to reach out to a few of them to pick their brains and figure out what makes them different than the rest of us. I have shared many of their stories, and more, on The Unconventionalist; a website dedicated to finding people “Living Life Another Way and bringing their stories to light.”
My hope is that in my personal pursuit of understanding these fundamental questions, readers will extract valuable lessons that they can apply to their own lives. Not everyone will quit their job to travel the world, but maybe someone will be inspired to travel more, start a side business, learn a new hobby, or just push the boundaries of their comfort zones.
With each case-study, my inner-hater’s voice becomes more suppressed and I become more inspired. The exciting and creative ways that these people make money doing what they love never fails to astound me.
Instagram would lead us to believe that the free-spirited artist is just hanging out in the mountains painting all day, but what we don’t see is the hustle of running a small business behind the scenes. She is no less an entrepreneur than the Stanford graduate with the latest tech start-up. Entrepreneurs seek to live life on their own terms and in that regard she is a very successful entrepreneur.
Throughout the stories I’ve shared on The Unconventionalist, common lessons have emerged.
I have learned more than I could possibly convey to you, but here are 10 of the most fundamental lessons.
1. They take ACTION and don’t wait for stars to align
When pursuing a goal or a dream, timing is never going to be perfect. We are all guilty of thinking that once X happens, we will finally be able to do Y. It’s an easy excuse for in-action; the path of least resistance. Talking about your goals with others may feel good, but studies show that this satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed. “One day” may never come so you might as well take the first step today.
2. They focus energy and time on authentic human connection
I’m not referring to occasionally attending work sponsored networking events. Get out into the world and touch people’s lives. In a world that increasingly relies on computers and automation, human connection is the greatest currency one can possess. It will enrich your life personally and professionally in an unquantifiable way.
3. They are supportive of others
Instead of being bitter, resentful, or jealous (like I was), be supportive of others’ dreams and goals. Unconventional people often have a greater sense of community and believe that we are all better off if we help each-other. The key is being confident in your own abilities. If you KNOW deep down that you are going to succeed, then you won’t feel insecure about the success of those around you.
4. They treat fear as motivation, not a deterrent
Individuals inherently crave a life that is unique from the person next to them, but fear standing out as different. Much like the Japanese proverb “the nail that sticks up gets hammered,” society is designed to urge you to fall in line with the crowd. The desire to carve your own path must outweigh the crippling fear of failure or being labeled a “weirdo”. By definition, unconventional people go against the status quo and challenge conventional wisdom in society.
5. They constantly push the boundaries of their comfort zones
Staying within the comfort zone is safe and pleasant but leads to a life without flavor or excitement. Everyone’s tolerance for pushing that boundary varies. Unconventional people often describe engaging in a type of self-induced exposure therapy where they push their boundaries often enough to cause them to permanently expand. Newly established boundaries then become a new set of goals or fears to conquer.
6. They don’t let inexperience or money hold them back
You will never feel fully prepared to follow your passions or dreams so stop using your lack of experience or the fact that you don’t have financial backing as excuses. Many of the most influential people in history were amateurs and in today’s world you have access to technology that allow you to make an impact or start a business from your family room. Thirty years ago, making a film required expensive equipment and large teams of people. Today, you can make a film using the smartphone in your pocket and free editing software. Regardless of what you want to do, the best way to learn is to start trying.
7. They often feel compelled by a higher calling
According to the Harvard Business Review, “any kind of change is risky when you are comfortable with the status quo. And evolutionary psychologists are not surprised at all by the fact that, despite the excellent press that change is given, almost everyone resists it—except when they are dissatisfied.” In other words, human beings are hardwired to avoid change unless they feel threatened or discontent. Unconventional people use their dissatisfaction for particular world issues, such as climate change, as motivation in their daily lives; often adding a greater meaning or purpose to jobs or tasks that may seem inconsequential.
8. They don’t chase trends or worry about others
We are bombarded by images on a daily basis with which to measure our own lives
against. Expectations of the wedding ring you should receive, the girlfriend you should have, the house you should buy, the body you should strive for, or the life you should lead. Unfortunately, content on social media sets the status quo on expectations and is always one thumb swipe away from reminding us of our inadequacies. Ignore the crowd and run your own race.
9. Happiness, NOT money, is the driving force in their lives
Envy of billionaire entrepreneurs is often misguided. People tend to focus on their material possessions, but what we all really envy is their freedom to live how they choose. A true entrepreneur is someone who strives to live life on their own terms. These people are by definition unconventional.
10. They focus on the journey, not the finish line
Goals, big or small, can often look like unclimbable mountains staring us in the face. Just the thought of getting started is enough to cause crippling anxiety in many people. As mentioned in #7, humans are hardwired to avoid stressful situations and therefore seemingly insurmountable goals get pushed aside. However, this anticipatory fatigue is avoidable and unconventional people have found the solution. Break apart your larger goal into smaller tasks. Then your mountain turns into a series of short hikes. Before you know it, momentum builds and you have reached the summit feeling inspired to take on your next challenge. As explained in #5, exposure to these situations pushes your tolerance to new heights. Your next goal won’t be so daunting and the positive cycle begins!