What Does It Mean To Live an Unconventional Lifestyle?

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.

How do they do it? And is it something you should try as well?

Learn what it means to live an unconventional lifestyle, which upsides and downsides exist, and how you can pull it off.

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.

What people consider to be the “norm” will of course vary, depending on what socio-cultural context you find yourself in. But at least in the West, the dominant script looks something like this:

  1. Go to college
  2. Get a job
  3. Get married
  4. Buy a house
  5. Have kids
  6. 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 and create street art. Or you might reject monogamy and join a polyamorous commune. Or you might sell all your belongings and move to a cabin in the woods.

These deviations come with consequences. Your family and peers will let you feel their disapproval and even hatred.

Faced with such risks, why do some people still opt for an unconventional lifestyle?

Because there is no real happiness with the herd.

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, you must transgress. You must push forward into unchartered territory.

When you do so, you will have adventures. You will feel alive. But you will also feel uprooted and alone at times.

Freedom vs. security — that is what the decision comes down to.

The 6 Areas of Rebellion

I mentioned the six social pillars earlier:

  1. Attending college
  2. Getting a job
  3. Getting married
  4. Buying a house
  5. Having kids
  6. Being a good consumer

When you invert these, you get what I call “the 6 areas of rebellion:”

  1. Skipping college
  2. Quitting your job
  3. Exploring non-monogamy
  4. Becoming location independent
  5. Remaining childless
  6. 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, between $30,000 and $40,000 on average. Depending on your situation, this number can be much higher. I have an acquaintance in his early 40s who is still paying back his $100,000 student debt for attending law school.

Next, the value you get in return is dubious at best. Most of the things I remember from college have never made me any money. All of my more valuable skills I had to acquire later in life by myself. Had I started acquiring them earlier, I would probably be further ahead.

Also, how much of that information do you still remember? Going by my own experience, I would estimate around 10%. That’s not a lot.

Finally, college as an environment is not conducive to learning. You spend half of your time getting drunk 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.

Choose a project that excites you. Apply yourself. Gather real-world skills and real-world experiences.

Once your academic competition enters the marketplace, you will be years ahead of them. You will already have started accumulating wealth while they are still paying off their students’ debts.

For example, people pay tens of thousands of dollars to get an MBA, without adding any practical skills to their toolboxes.

The unconventional (and the smarter option) would be to start an online business. This will force you to learn about all the important areas of business — product creation, marketing, sales, logistics, management, etc.

And you won’t have to miss out on great instruction, either.

Practically any skill you can think of, you can learn online. And instead of studying under some second-tier college professor, you can learn from the absolute best in your field — people who have a proven track record.

2. Quitting Your Job

Everybody hates their jobs.

Just think about yourself — how you feel on a Sunday evening, knowing that the whole charade is about to start over. You dread it.

And with good reason. We spend half of our time awake doing stuff we would never do unless we got paid for it. Who wants to fill out Excel tables or write invoices all day? Nobody. It is mind-numbing.

Then there are the other people we are stuck with at work. In your private life, you would never tolerate hanging out with individuals who are rude, incompetent, and gossipy. At work, these people are called your colleagues.

And let’s not forget about the power structures.

The fact that companies are constantly trying to conjure up a spirit of cooperation speaks to the opposite. Work is a place where everybody is constantly trying to climb over each other; scheming is the norm, not the exception.

Work 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 promise of stability. It is us who fell for the trap.

The Unconventional Route

The unconventional route is to leave this self-inflicted prison behind. There are different ways to do so:

  • Start a passion business. If you love yoga more than anything else in the world, start a yoga school. If you love to travel, become a travel blogger.
  • Retire early. By cutting your expenses and saving aggressively, you could retire at age 40 (or earlier). Google the “FIRE” movement.
  • Only work odd jobs. By reducing your cost of living to $700⁠–⁠$800 per month, you can quit your 9 to 5 and only work odd jobs. Your days will be wide open.
  • Exit. Start a company, e.g. an agency, then make as much money as possible in 5–10 years. Exit, invest your wealth in the stock market, and live off the dividends.

All of these options require courage. You must dare to deviate. And that is scary.

But should you overcome yourself, the rewards will be huge. Instead of acting out somebody else’s vision, you will finally be free to live your own life.

3. Exploring Non-Monogamy

What we call love is really mutual ownership.

I will give you affection, but only if you assure me that you belong to me. In turn, I will concede to being owned by you.

This notion of ownership is rooted in a scarcity mindset. We are afraid to lose.

What exactly we are afraid to lose differs between men and women.

For men, it’s a loss of power

Men struggle with winning women over. Women are skeptical of the male suitor. It’s his job to prove himself.

But once a man gets with a woman, now, the roles are reversed, as women tend to pair-bond over sex quicker.

Suddenly, the man has a degree of control; where before he was under her spell, now she is under his spell. That feels good.

But it’s a fragile bliss. Because once the spell is broken (because she slept with another man), the man feels powerless again.

This is why men cling to monogamy.

The fear of loss women experience is different. For her, it’s about resources.

Women tend to look at a relationship as an investment, especially the longer it goes on. From a biological point of view, that makes perfect sense — you only have a limited window of time to get pregnant and start a family.

Imagine you invested ten years of your time into one man, and he is suddenly talking about sleeping with other people. Now that investment is under threat.

This is why women cling to monogamy.

The Unconventional Route

The unconventional route is to say goodbye to monogamy and explore ethical non-monogamy (ENM).

But for that, we first need to overcome our gender-specific scarcity mindsets.

What does that look like?

As a man, the key is to create options for yourself.

You must be able to attract other high-quality mates at will. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep around. But you must at least cultivate your potential to do so, i.e., learn how to flirt.

This way, you won’t be scared of being abandoned. When push comes to shove, you can find a new, equally attractive partner in no time.

For women, the key is to become self-sufficient.

You must be in a position to do anything you want by yourself. No man needed. This requires financial independence and emotional autonomy.

Financial independence means your reserves are so plenty, that you can raise a kid by yourself without ever worrying about money.

To attain emotional autonomy, you must cultivate an agency mindset. Everything you want from life — excitement, safety, money — is your responsibility. Acknowledge that men are not your caretakers.

Only when these two meet — the sexually resourceful man and the independent woman — can the tyranny of monogamy be overcome.

By learning to let the other person be free, sexually and emotionally, we in turn set ourselves free. You can be with each other, but at the same time enjoy other people, outside the relationship.

Love and freedom can finally coexist.

4. Becoming Location-Independent

The notion of “settling down” is a hallmark of our social programming.

Just look at the fixation with home ownership in the US.

People self-identify as “first-time homeowners.” They “flip houses” for fun. Every couple of years, there is a housing crisis, because the masses keep taking out mortgages.

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.

The societal narrative to justify this craziness — “It’s the natural thing to do.” Supposedly, when you get to a certain age, you absolutely must take root.

But there is nothing natural about settling down.

Homo sapiens was nomadic for the first 300,000 years of its existence, and that is 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. Climate change.

Here is a thought experiment to put this into perspective.

Imagine I was following a certain routine for 30 years and had been thriving. Then, in my 31st year, I suddenly changed my routine and everything went down the drain. I got sick, I lost all my money. Nonetheless, I now proclaim this is what everybody ought to be doing.

That’s the equivalent of people saying, “You should settle down.”

The Unconventional Route

The unconventional option is to rediscover our nomadic nature.

We were not meant to stay in one place for the rest of our lives.

We were meant to roam. We were meant to explore. If you deny yourself that, don’t be surprised when end up depressed. Put a wild animal in a cage and it will wither.

At this point, the most viable alternative is digital nomadism. If you have a service or product you can sell online, that’s the easiest way to reclaim your freedom.

There are other options. You could move to Alaska and live off the land, “Into the Wild” style. Or you could become a voluntary hobo and hitchhike the country, Daniel Suelo style.

But for most people, digital nomadism will be the easiest option to see through. Should you then discover this is still too conventional for you, you can push further.

5. Remaining Childless

We live in a world that is set on destroying itself through procreation.

All the existential problems we face — food shortage, the extinction of various species, climate change — are due to the fact that we cannot stop having babies.

Just look at the numbers.

Pre-agricultural revolution, there were about eight million people on this planet. We are talking about the size of a city like New York.

Let’s imagine that number had remained stable.

Even taking into account our current technological advancement, the earth could easily sustain eight million people. The exploitation of natural resources would hardly register.

But due to our unchecked urge for procreation, the planet now has to sustain around 8 billion people (and that number is still going up).

8 billion people — that’s an increase by a factor of 1000 in just 10,000 years.

Imagine the city you currently live in would grow by a factor of 1000, without expanding outwards. It would be mayhem.

That is what we have done to planet Earth.

It’s not even the overexploitation that will end us. When resources get scarce, people start fighting over them. With nuclear weapons at our disposal, chances are we will destroy each other before climate change can do the trick.

And all that for what? So that we get to make faces at a cute little baby?

Let’s not forget about the individual perspective.

For many people, having children is a cope out. At some point, they realize that the great dreams they had for themselves will not come true. They didn’t have the discipline to “invent” themselves. Now their lives feel like a let-down.

A child solves all of these problems. It means instant purpose.

Having a baby around will eliminate all doubts. A young child will constantly demand your attention; no time to brood.

On top of that, you can project all your former aspirations onto your child. What you didn’t achieve, they will. Or so you like to imagine.

The Unconventional Route

The unconventional option is to remain childless. It will not change anything on a global scale, but at least you won’t partake in the destruction.

It will also allow you to keep growing.

When most people stop developing due to children, you’ll keep challenging yourself. Instead of projecting your unfulfilled dreams onto your child, you will be forced to make things happen.

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 really think it normal to own thousands of physical items (most of which we never use).

But as I said earlier — our species, for most of its history, was nomadic. As such, we could only carry the bare essentials — our clothes, a few tools, our weapons. This allowed us to travel where the food was.

Nowadays, our stuff chains us to one place. We have to rent or own large apartments and houses, just to store all our belongings.

Consumerism also enables our 9-to-5 misery.

Since our jobs are so pointless, frustration keeps building. So, as soon as we get off work, we want to treat ourselves. We go to that expensive restaurant, we buy that fancy dress, we make the down payment for that new car.

For a moment, it works. We feel elated. But soon, you have to make another purchase again.

With each additional purchase, you sink deeper into the quicksand. You keep consuming, so you can forget about work. But the more you consume, the more dependent you grow on your job. Credit cards don’t pay themselves off.

It’s the perfect vicious circle.

Finally, there is the environmental impact. About 42 percent of greenhouse gases result from the production of consumer goods. We are literally paying for the privilege to self-destruct.

The Unconventional Route

The unconventional option is to get rid of your stuff.

Sell it. Donate it. Throw it away.

You will experience five benefits:

  1. More clarity. All the stuff you own takes up a lot of your mental bandwidth. You need to store it, clean it, maintain it, etc. But when you get rid of your stuff, all that mental bandwidth becomes available again. The result is clarity.
  2. More sustainability. If we all stopped being consumers tomorrow, we could probably still save this planet. Granted, that’s an unlikely scenario. But at least your conscience will be clear.
  3. More enlightenment. Minimalism has always been a gateway to spiritual insights; just consider the monastic lifestyle. Monks understand that there are greater pleasures than fancy dresses or cars.
  4. More mobility. Owning next to nothing is a prerequisite for geographical mobility. If the mood strikes you, you can throw your few things into a backpack, drive to the airport, and leave.
  5. More autonomy. When you say goodbye to consumerism, you become free. Your 9 to 5 loses its grip on you. You can also stop trying to impress strangers with your wealth. Success is not defined by status symbols anymore.

If you would like to learn more about the practicalities of living without stuff, check out my article on extreme minimalism.

How To Make It Happen

Here are some tips to succeed with your unconventional lifestyle of choice.

1. Imagine the Consequences

Every unconventional person I ever knew had a heightened for the transience of it all. Death is coming for us, and much sooner than most people realize.

If you truly 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 tomorrow. In the end, you’ll be by yourself.

So, you might as well start living on your own terms now.

2. Take Action

The number one thing that keeps people from living an interesting life is passiveness. They might like the idea of it, but they don’t anything about it.

You can’t be a bystander, not if you want an unconventional life. You need to make it happen.

3. Trust Your Own Judgment

We don’t trust ourselves. “Who am I to question it all?” So, we go along with whatever the herd deems right.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Mark Twain

You need to embrace your critical mind. They might actually all be wrong and you might be right.

4. Prepare for Pushback

Whenever you do something that is at odds with the herd, there will be pushback. Ridicule, slander, hatred — you’ll get it all.

Instead of letting this pull you down, let it encourage you.

It’s a sign that you are doing something right. You are on your way to a different, more enjoyable life. The emotional pushback is simply a rite of passage. You should only be worried if you don’t experience it.

5. Build a Support System

While transitioning from a conventional to an unconventional lifestyle, try to connect with other escapists. Their emotional support will help you to stay the course.

The tricky part is to find these people. By definition, they are a rare breed. It’s a numbers game.

Therefore, talk to lots of strangers. Wherever you are — at the restaurant, at the airport, at the laundromat — open your mouth and bridge the social gap. You will find other free spirits in the most unexpected places.

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