In The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau advises those who are not chasing their dreams to ask themselves “what’s the worst thing that could happen if something goes wrong.” The tacit implication is that you should not be afraid to chuck your comfortable life to do something risky/different/awesome.
And depending on your stage of life, it could be terrible advice.
Sure, in some situations, the risk is not great. If you’re 24 and single and your business idea fails, you sell your car and go live with your parents for a few months and there you are–ready to start another venture having learned a lot, but having lost very little.
But if you’re 34 with three kids and a mortgage and your business idea fails, you’ll run through your savings pretty fast. If your idea fails, “the worst thing that could happen” is going to involve homelessness, being unable to feed your children and pay their medical bills, crippling debt that will follow you for years, and debilitating stress.
Worth it? Maybe not.
So, if you have dependents and responsibilities, are you stuck? Do you have to give up all of your dreams and plod wearily along for the duration? Should you give up on the follow-your-dream genre entirely?
Not necessarily. I think the key is to balance risk and faithfulness and keep a positive mindset. The Art of Non-Conformity also says to “Begin with a clear understanding of what you want to get out of life.” When you have a family, what you want to get out of life begins with them. Sure, you may hanker for adventure, but ultimately you’re choosing to prioritize your family’s flourishing. In some seasons, your family may flourish as you pursue your dreams. Sometimes, the bold choice is to do the faithful thing. To take the boring job that puts food on the table. To put others’ needs before your own desires.
But remember, this is something you are actively choosing, not something that is just happening to you. The circumstances may look the same, but the radically different attitudes make the difference.
The stuck attitude starts out feeling resigned, then spirals into negativity and winds up in bitterness. The attitude of personal agency is positive, able to see chances for small changes, and leaves room for joy.
- Test out big steps with small experiments. If you don’t have capital to try your business idea, maybe you could do it as a hobby, with the option to scale up later.
- Start living a fuller life. Begin by saying no to one thing you only do out of obligation and saying yes to one thing that feeds your soul. Just one thing could make a big difference, or start a snowball effect.
- Avoid the glory days trap. Look for ways that your current situation can be formative and learning intensive. Can’t swing grad school right now? Make your own syllabus and read on your own time.
- Lose the all-or-nothing approach. Think about what you love to do and what you’re really good at, and move toward those things in small increments. Your joy, money, and flow don’t all have to come from the same source.
- Beware of false choices. You don’t have to choose between being responsible and being fulfilled. Or between exercising or playing with your kids. Or whatever. Test your assumptions. Many either/or problems can be reframed to both/and lifestyles.
Maybe you’re in a position where the awesome travel hacks and inspiration for big leaps in Guillebeau’s books are doable for you. If so, I’d definitely recommend The Art of Non-Conformity and Born For This. But if you are feeling tied down and stuck and foiled at every turn, I might recommend them even more. Rather than seeing books like this as not practical for my stage of life, I think of them as sources of ideas I can customize to my situation. It all depends on your mindset.
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