zenhabits : breathe

Staring Out Over the Bridge

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity. Follow him on Twitter here.

When you were a kid and wanted to do something your parents or teachers didn’t like, you may have heard the question, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” The idea is that it’s not good to do something stupid, even if everyone else is doing it. The logic is think for yourself instead of following the crowd.

It’s good advice, regardless of the motivations of the authority figure giving it to you. But one day, you grow up and suddenly the tables are turned. People start expecting you to behave very much like they do. If you disagree and don’t conform to their expectations, some of them get confused or irritated. It’s almost as if they are asking: “Hey, everyone else is jumping off the bridge. Why aren’t you?”

Every day, you’ll encounter the bridge in countless decisions and conversations—but the choice of whether to jump or not is completely up to you. How can you back away and make your own choices?

Try this:

1. Ask why. A powerful, annoying question, why is frequently used by three-year-olds but usually abandoned by adults. Support the why revolution. Start asking why of everyone, including yourself.

2. Clarify. What’s it all about? What do you really want to do, and how can you make that the priority?

3. Simplify. That’s what minimalism is all about—letting go and living the dream. But the best part of simplicity has nothing to do with how many socks you own; it lies in being clear about your intentions and motivations.

4. Do … more. That’s right, do more, not less. When you don’t know your core passions and are staring out over the bridge, it’s good to back off and strip everything down. But when you’re crafting a remarkable life, why wouldn’t you want more of it?

Here are a few options for step four: learn a language. Write a book. Take a trip. Learn to walk on hot coals. Enroll in trapeze school. Volunteer.

Or do something else—it’s a big world out there. The main question is: How can you wake up tomorrow and live the life you want, while also connecting with the world around you?

Most of us don’t really want the simplest possible life. We want a life that is free from clutter, yes—but we need to connect our lives with a greater purpose. We don’t need to own things we don’t use, but we should spend freely on meaningful experiences. We should invest in ourselves and invest in others.

Take a hard look at the life before you. Are you staring out over the bridge? Take a step back. Decide for yourself what’s best.

The rest is entirely up to you.

Chris Guillebeau travels and writes for a small army of remarkable people at chrisguillebeau.com. His new book, The Art of Non-Conformity, is now available online and in bookstores everywhere.

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