Most of us live our lives on autopilot. We go to college, we get a job, we get married. And we never question any of it.
But a few free spirits manage to break away from this social script. They choose an unconventional lifestyle, like digital nomadism or polyamory, ignoring the societal pushback.
How do they do it? And is it something you could do as well?
Learn what it means to live an unconventional lifestyle, about the upsides and the downsides, and how you can pull it off.
- What Does an Unconventional Lifestyle Look Like?
- The 6 Areas of Rebellion
- How To Make It Happen
What Does an Unconventional Lifestyle Look Like?
An unconventional lifestyle is a life that deviates from the “norm.” You are not doing what most people are doing. Instead of following the dominant social script, you are making your own choices.
What people consider to be the “norm” will of course vary, depending on what culture you find yourself in. But at least in the West, the dominant script looks something like this:
- Go to college
- Get a job
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Have kids
- Be a good consumer
Whenever you stray from one of these pillars, you are entering into unconventional-lifestyle territory.
For example, you might quit your 9-to-5 to create street art. Or you might reject marriage to live in a polyamorous commune. Or you might sell all your belongings and move to a cabin in the woods.
These deviations from the norm come with consequences. Your family, friends, and even strangers will try to emotionally punish you. They might act disappointed, derisive, or even hateful.
Faced with such odds, why do some people still opt for an unconventional lifestyle?
Because there is no happiness to be had with the many. The social script is the smallest denominator most people can agree on. It caters to the unimaginative and the fearful. The herd offers stability but at the price of stagnation.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.Jiddu Krishnamurti
If you want to keep growing in life, you must transgress. You must push forward into unchartered territory. When you do so, you will have adventures. You will feel alive. But you also feel uprooted and alone at times.
Freedom vs. security — that is what the decision between an unconventional and a conventional life comes down to.
The 6 Areas of Rebellion
I mentioned the six social pillars earlier:
- Go to college
- Get a job
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Have kids
- Be a good consumer
When you invert these, you get what I call “the 6 areas of rebellion:”
- Skipping college
- Quitting your 9-to-5
- Exploring alternative relationship models
- Staying geographically mobile
- Remaining childless
- Owning next to nothing
Let’s look at these areas a little bit closer.
1. Skipping College
College is a highly questionable endeavor.
First, most people go massively into debt to attend college. The numbers differ, but most sources estimate the average student loan debt to be between $30,000 and $40,000. Depending on your profession and your chosen school, this number can be much higher. I have an acquaintance in his early 40s who is still paying back his roughly $100,000 student debt for attending law school.
With open eyes, most people are entering into financial dependency at the beginning of their adult lives. This will massively impair their peace of mind for years and even decades to come.
Next, the value you get in return is dubious at best. Of the thousands of facts, models, and formulas that you were forced to cram into your head during your college years, how much do you still retain? Going by my own experience, I would estimate around 10%. And my ability to memorize things has always been above average. With most people, we are probably talking less than 5%.
Then you got to ask how valuable that information truly is. Most of the things I remember from college have never made me any money. They have also not contributed (or very little) to my productivity or happiness. All of these more valuable skills I had to acquire later in life by myself. Had I started acquiring them earlier, I would probably be further ahead now.
Finally, college, ironically, is not an environment conducive to learning. Most students spend a lot of their time getting drunk, being hungover, and trying to get laid. You can do all of these things much cheaper outside of higher education.
The Unconventional Route
Doing the unconventional thing and skipping college is almost always the smarter thing to do. This is especially true if you apply yourself to a project of your own choosing for a few years, learning an in-demand skill, or starting a business. You will be years ahead of your competition once they finally enter the marketplace.
This is now easier to do than ever. Practically any skill you can think of, you can learn online. And you can learn not just from whomever, but the absolute best in your field.
Similarly with starting your own business. In the past, the barrier of entrance would be high. You would have to rent a brick-and-mortar location. You would have to spend tons of money on ads. And if you were too young, people wouldn’t take you seriously.
Now, all you need is an online presence, you can do your own marketing via any of the social media platforms, and nobody has to know how old you are.
This way, instead of being up to your ears in debt, you will actually be affluent by the time your peers graduate.
2. Quitting Your 9 to 5
Everybody hates their jobs.
Just think about yourself — how you feel on a Sunday evening, knowing that the whole meaningless charade is about to start over again. You dread it. And so do all of your friends.
And with good reason. We spent half of our time awake doing something that is so alienating, we would never do it if we didn’t get paid for it. Who wants to fill out Excel tables, look at X-rays, or load dishwashers all day? Nobody. It is mind-numbing.
Then there are the people we are stuck with doing these things. In your private life, you would never tolerate hanging out with individuals who are annoying, incompetent, and gossipy. At work, these people are called your colleagues.
And let’s not forget about the power structures. The very fact that companies are constantly trying to conjure up a spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness speaks to the opposite. Work is a place where everybody is constantly trying to climb over each other; where scheming is the norm, not the exception. It’s called the career ladder for a reason.
Bottom line — work is the single most restrictive factor in our lives. It is the invisible prison we all live in.
But there is no point in complaining. The truth is, we are in this prison because we allowed someone to lure us there, with the promises of financial stability and social status. But it is we who are to blame. We fell for the trap. The other side was simply appealing to your unaddressed weaknesses.
The Unconventional Route
The unconventional route then is to leave this self-inflicted prison behind. There are different ways to do so:
- You can start your own passion-based business. If you love yoga more than anything else in the world, being a yoga teacher won’t feel like a chore, but like bliss.
- Retire early. There is a whole movement out there (the so-called “FIRE” movement) teaching you how you can retire at the age of 40 (or earlier) by cutting your expenses and saving aggressively.
- You can also dramatically reduce your cost of living (think $700 to $800 a month), so that you can stop working a regular job right now. Just the odd job here and there will get you through. And the truly beautiful things in life — health, friendship, love, books, walks in the forest — are all available at no or very little cost.
- Finally, you can optimize for making as much money as possible in a 5-to-10-year timeframe and then exit; that’s the startup model, essentially. Granted, this requires a lot of hard work and skills that many people don’t possess. But if you are one of those few, you might enjoy a luxurious, workfree life ever after.
However, all of these options require courage. We must dare to do something that no one around us is doing and stick it out until we see success. That is both scary and hard; hence so why so few people do it.
3. Exploring Alternative Relationship Models
Questioning monogamy is one of the most sensitive transgressions on this list. Bring this up with your mate, and you are likely to get an earful.
Why is that? Why do so many people throw a fit if you suggest another relationship model than monogamy?
What we call love is really mutual ownership. I will show you affection, but only if you assure me you belong to me, like a priced car or a favorite pair of shoes. In return, I will concede to being owned by you.
This notion of ownership is rooted in a scarcity mindset. Naturally, you only obsess about owning a thing if you fear it will be hard to replace.
Now, what exactly we are afraid to lose differs between men and women.
Men tend to have a hard time winning women over. Women are — often with justification — skeptical of the male suitor. It is your job to prove yourself.
But once a man gets “lucky” with a woman (that expression in itself is telling), now the roles are reversed, as women tend to pair-bond over sex quicker and more radically.
Suddenly, the man has a level of control; where before he was under her spell, now she is under his spell. That reversal of power feels satisfying to many men.
But it also makes men anxious to lose that unexpected devotion. Because once the spell is broken (because she slept with somebody else), the man feels powerless again.
The fear of loss women experience is different. Women tend to look at a relationship as an investment, especially the longer it goes on. That makes perfect sense from a biological point of view, as you only have a limited amount of time to get pregnant and start a family.
Now imagine you have invested five to ten years of your limited time into one man, and he is suddenly talking about sleeping with other people. It will feel like someone pulled out the rug under your feet. All that you built is now under attack.
That is how our respective scarcity mindsets put us in prison.
The Unconventional Route
The unconventional route then is to overcome our gender-specific scarcity mindsets. Because when we learn to let the other person be free, sexually and emotionally, we in turn set ourselves free.
What does that look like?
For men, the key is to create options for themselves. You must be able to attract other high-quality sexual partners. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep around, but you must at least cultivate your potential to do so.
This way, the threat of finding yourself abandoned loses its sting. When push comes to shove, you can find a new, equally attractive partner in no time.
This entails two skills — improving your value and communicating your value.
Most men in relationships let themselves go. There is no sexual incentive anymore, so they deteriorate. You must do the opposite — constantly get fitter, learn new skills, improve your financial standing, and become a better communicator.
At the same time, you must practice your skill to demonstrate your value. You must talk to strangers, in this case, attractive women. When your flirting is regularly reciprocated, it becomes much easier to let your partner be free.
For women, the key is to become self-sufficient. You must be in a position to do anything you want by yourself.
This entails two accomplishments — financial independence and emotional autonomy.
Financial independence means your reserves are so plenty, you can raise a kid by yourself without ever worrying about money. Ideally, that means having savings in the ballpark of $300,000 — the average cost to raise a child in the US. When you already paid for your child before it is born, you become untouchable.
Of course, few people are that affluent. The next best thing is then to put yourself on a career trajectory where you will easily make that money while you are already raising the child.
Any further compromise and you become susceptible. You will have to financially rely on your partner. That might seem tempting initially, but you tend to get the bill later.
The other ingredient to overcome scarcity is emotional autonomy.
Many women idolize the “We.” They want to merge with the other person to the point where the “I” stops to matter.
Biologically, it makes sense. The more intertwined the two of you are, the more likely he is going to stick around for raising the kids. Also, it gives you this warm, fuzzy feeling.
But it means you are at the mercy of somebody else. Your partner acts as your emotional crutch. Take that crutch away, and you plummet.
If you want to be independent, you must resist this urge. Instead, cultivate an agency mindset. Everything you want from life — money, physical safety, emotional stimulation — is your responsibility. Acknowledge that men are not “investments,” but free agents.
Only when these two meet — the sexually resourceful man and the independent woman — can the allure of monogamy be overcome. Now more rewarding, more honest relationship models become possible.
4. Staying Geographically Mobile
One of the hallmarks of the conventional life track is to “settle down.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than with the fixation on home ownership in the US. Real-estate nomenclature like “first-time homeowners” are a fixture of the mainstream. People “flip houses” for fun. Housing crises are a staple of the culture, as the masses are obsessed with taking out housing loans and greedy racketeers are happy to oblige.
It’s the perfect system to keep the herd occupied. You go straight from worrying about paying back your student loans to worrying about your mortgage. The progression is seamless.
It also serves to keep the general populous ignorant. If you are married to a certain plot of land, you are much less likely to run off, explore the world, and come up with your own ideas about it.
But what baffles me most is the self-assuredness with which people will tell you, “That’s what you do. When you get to a certain age, you must take root. It’s normal, it’s healthy, it grounds us.”
That is nonsense.
Homo sapiens was nomadic for the first 300,000 years of its existence, and that is still ignoring the much longer history of its nomadic Homo predecessors.
Only during the last 10,000 years, with the advent of agriculture, did we start to settle down. And it has come with major problems. Obesity. Chancer. Overpopulation. Nuclear weapons. Climate change.
Imagine I was following a certain routine — a diet, a workout regiment, a certain business — for 30 years successfully. For 30 years, I have been thriving. Then, in my 31st year, I suddenly change my routine and everything goes down the drain. I get fat, I get sick, I lose all my money. Nonetheless, I proclaim that this now is the new normal and what everybody ought to be doing.
That’s the equivalent of people proclaiming, “Settling down is the natural thing to do.”
The Unconventional Route
The unconventional thing then becomes to rediscover what is truly natural to us. And that is to be nomadic.
We were not meant to be confined to the same few square kilometers for the rest of our lives, which is de facto how must people grow old. What is that other than a prison with a slightly more generously designed prison yard?
We were meant to roam. We were meant to explore. If you deny yourself that, don’t be surprised when end up depressed and disappointed in life. Put a wild animal in a cage and it will wither.
When it comes to practical matters, the most viable option is digital nomadism. If you have a valuable service or product that you can sell online, that’s the easiest way to overcome the housing issue.
There are other options, at least theoretically. You could move to one of the few remaining untapped regions of this world like remote Alaska; think “Into the Wild.” Or you could hitchhike and dumpster dive Daniel-Suelo style. But realistically, reclaiming your nomadic nature via digital nomadism gives you the widest range of mobility. You can travel virtually anywhere while the non-digital wanderer is limited to certain environments.
5. Remaining Childless
To remain childless is maybe the ultimate act of rebellion, in a world that is set on destroying itself through children.
All the existential problems we face — climate change, shortage of food, nuclear war — are due to the fact that we cannot stop procreating.
The numbers are obvious. Pre-agricultural revolution, there were about four to ten million people on this planet, so around the population of a large city like New York.
Now, as a thought experiment, let’s imagine those numbers had remained stable. Even assuming the same kind of technological progress would have taken place (which it wouldn’t), the earth could easily sustain four to ten million people exploiting natural resources, operating factories, driving cars, and generally consuming too much. It would hardly register.
But due to an unbridled urge for procreation, the planet now has to sustain around 8 billion people; and the number is still going up.
8 billion people — if you assume we started at 4 million, that is an increase by a factor of 2000 in just 10,000 years.
Imagine the city you currently live in would grow by a factor of 2000, without expanding outwards. It would be mayhem. That is what we have done to planet Earth.
It is important to note that the vast majority of this growth happened only recently, in the last couple of hundred years. The agricultural revolution laid the foundation for unchecked growth, but it is the industrial revolution that will finish us off.
It’s not even sucking the planet dry that could end us; it might happen well before that. When resources keep growing scarcer, people start fighting over them. And with nuclear weapons at our disposal, we can now destroy ourselves even before our deteriorating environmental conditions will. It’s heartbreaking to imagine the level of global misery that will come with that.
And all that for what? So that we get to make faces at a cute little baby? Does our selfish need for love exceed the existence of the planet and everybody else on it?
Then there is the individual perspective. For many people, having children is a cope out. At some point, they realize that the great dreams they had for their own lives will not come true. As a result, they feel lost and don’t know what to do with themselves.
A child solves all of these problems; it means instant purpose. Having a cute genetical copy yourself around that is constantly demanding your attention will eliminate all self-doubts. Not only are you suddenly way too busy to brood; but you can also project all your former aspirations for yourself onto your child (which of course just repeats the cycle).
The Unconventional Route
The unconventional option then becomes to remain child-free. It will not change anything on a global scale for the planet, but at least there will be no blood on your hands.
But you also get the chance to fix yourself. Instead of running away from your problems, you will have to face them. You will keep developing yourself where most people stop due to children. Instead of projection your dreams onto your child, you will be forced to find meaning in yourself.
6. Owning Next To Nothing
The last pillar of conventional life is consumerism.
It is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society, we don’t even notice it. At this point, we think it is simply normal to own thousands of material items, most of which we don’t use.
But as I pointed out earlier — our species, for most of its history, was nomadic. As such, we could only carry the bare essentials, like our clothes, a few tools, and our weapons. This created the mobility to travel where the food was.
Nowadays, our myriads of belongings chain us to one place just as much as the 9-to-5 job we are holding. How can we travel if we have to rent or buy large spaces to house our belongings?
Then there is the environmental aspect. About 42 percent of greenhouse gases result from the production of consumer goods. We are paying hard-earned money to corporations for the privilege to self-destruct.
Speaking of hard work — consumerism is intricately linked to our 9-to-5 misery. When we spend most of our time awake doing work we hate, naturally, frustration keeps building. So, as soon as we get off work, we want to treat ourselves. We go to that expensive restaurant or chic club, we buy that fancy dress or that cool phone, and we make that down payment for a holiday home or that new car.
For a short moment, we feel elated. Life is fun again. And once it stops being fun, we can make another purchase.
But with each additional purchase, you sink deeper into the quicksand. You keep working, so you can mindlessly consume. But the more you consume and max out your credit cards, the more you have to work. It’s the perfect vicious circle.
If that was not enough, there is also the status factor. Conventional success is largely determined by your buying power. The things you own are a representation of that. If there are a couple of expensive sports cars parked in the driveway of your mansion, people will look up to you. Your parents will be proud of you. Attractive strangers will want to sleep with you.
All of this makes it increasingly difficult to reject consumerism. If you refuse to play the buying game, you will be belittled and made fun of. People will think you are a weirdo, even though it is them who are trapped in jobs they cannot leave because they spend too much while destroying the planet in the process.
The Unconventional Route
The unconventional option is to get rid of your stuff. Sell it. Donate it. Throw it away.
You will experience five major benefits almost immediately:
- More clarity. When you own a lot of stuff, that stuff owns you. You need to store it, clean it, maintain it, repair it, and replace it. But when you get rid of your physical belongings, all that mental bandwidth becomes available again. The result is less complexity and more clarity.
- More sustainability. If we all stopped being buyers (and would start to regulate population growth), we could probably still save this planet. That’s unlikely to happen but at least you are not actively participating in the destruction.
- More “enlightenment.” Overcoming your fixation on material success has always been a gateway to more spiritual insights; hence, why monks and other seekers usually own few if any things. They understand that there are much greater pleasures to be had than champagne dinners.
- More mobility. Owning almost nothing is a prerequisite for more geographical mobility (in combination with a job that you can do online). If the mood strikes you, you can just throw the few things you own into your backpack, drive to the airport, and leave.
- More autonomy. When you say “Goodbye” to consumerism, you become free. You are now much less dependent on your miserable 9-to-5 job, as your cost of living significantly decreases. At the same time, you can stop trying to impress strangers with your wealth. Success is not external anymore, but internal.
I have written about the practicalities of becoming an extreme minimalist here. The most important tip is to make an initial decision about which few things you want to keep. Put these few essentials in a box; then throw away everything else.
This results in a much smoother process than picking up thousands of items in your home and asking yourself, “Does this create joy?” This results in thousands of individual, difficult decision processes. It’s way too daunting of an undertaking, hence why most people never go through with it.
How To Make It Happen
Here are some quick tips to succeed with your chosen unconventional lifestyle.
1. Imagine the Consequences
Every truly unconventional person I ever met had a heightened for the transience of it all. Death is coming for us all, and much sooner than most people realize.
If you deeply understand that your days are numbered, it becomes much easier to go against the grain. You realize that the people judging you today will not be there to comfort you when you are old and full of regrets about a life wasted.
So, you might as well live life on your own terms now.
2. Start With Your Mindset
The number-one thing that is keeping people from living an interesting life is passiveness. They might like the idea of it, but they don’t understand that it is up to them to make it happen.
Make this your mantra — wherever you find yourself in life, it is due to your past decisions. We are helpless victims of our circumstances. There is always a way to get what you want, provided you are willing to put the work in.
It is this sense of self-responsibility that will get you from dreaming about an unconventional lifestyle to actually living it.
3. Learn To Trust Your Own Judgment
Another reason why we find it so difficult to deviate from the norm is that we don’t trust our own decision-making capabilities. So, we go along with whatever the herd deems right, as a means of risk aversion.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.Mark Twain
You need to learn to trust your own judgment. Please note — this is not some self-help, inspirational nonsense about blindly believing in yourself. If you haven’t practiced making your own decisions yet, you are bound to make some major mistakes.
But this is how you learn — by making the wrong decisions first. Eventually, though, you’ll get to the point where more and more of your decisions turn out to be right (or at least somewhat right).
This creates confidence. You don’t need to move with the herd anymore. You can choose your own path.
4. Prepare for Pushback
Whenever you do something that is at odds with what most people are doing, there will be emotional pushback. Disappointment, ridicule, hatred — you’ll experience it all, and often from the people you are closest to you.
Instead of letting this dishearten you, reframe it as encouragement. It really is an indicator that you are doing something right. You are on your path to a different, more conscious, and ultimately more enjoyable life. The emotional pushback is simply a rite of passage. You should actually be worried if you don’t experience it.
5. Build a Support System
When you transition from a conventional to an unconventional lifestyle, it can help tremendously to connect with other free spirits; both people who have already done it and people who are taking the plunge like you.
The tricky part is to find these people. By definition, they are a rare breed. You might think that joining a certain non-conventional subculture is the way to go; but often, these people are just as narrow-minded about life, just in a different way.
The best advice I can give you is to cultivate your ability to talk to absolutely anybody. Wherever you are — at the restaurant, at the airport, at the laundry place — open your mouth and bridge the social gap. You will find your handful of fellow free spirits in the most unexpected places. Also, if you are interested, I offer coaching.