The Common Wisdom Trap

“They say that all good things must come to an end.”
“They say a house is the best investment you’ll ever make.”
“They say you should wait an hour after eating to swim.”

Funny thing is, this kind of age old conventional wisdom is usually wrong! Alfie Kohn even wrote a book on this called You Know What They Say, which showed much “common knowledge” to be false, such as:

-From a research plane high over Wisconsin comes proof that two snowflakes can indeed be alike.

-From dozens of psychologists comes word that birds of a feather flock together a lot more often than opposites attract.

-From a laboratory in Ireland comes a brand-new report suggesting that your mother may have been right when she told you to stop cracking your knuckles.

-From recently declassified government documents comes disturbing evidence that the United States didn’t need to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the Japanese were already about to surrender.

So are you listening to what “they say”? Or, are you overriding those “they” voices…and living life on your terms? As Zan Perrion would say, are you being driven down the road, or are you drawn down the road?

What’s down that road?

In the present, it can seem like going with the flow and letting life take you down the road is the way to go. Everyone is doing it. Why question things? Why rock the boat? Don’t want to upset anyone! What would my parents think about this or that? What would my wife/husband think? For every decision, even small ones, there are thousands of implications your mind will run through, often in a split second, before that decision is made. And often, these implications, like who will be displeased, will lead you to saying “no” to potential opportunities before the facts are even thought through.

Making decisions in the attempt to make your life better in some way is not always about simply “getting what you want in life”. Life isn’t “easy” by nature, so sometimes it’s truly about making life easier, by taking the path less traveled.

Living free almost always means going against the tide. Most of the decisions in my life that I have made because I truly believed in them went against conventional wisdom, and have led to growth and positive things:

1. When I got laid off from my job in 2001, I could have easily slipped right back into another “account management” job in the high tech world, but instead I branched out and took a job as a masters swim coach paying $12/hour. This led to doing personal training, starting a website, and eventually creating a business online, allowing me to maximize my freedom levels.

2. I booked a trip halfway around the world, sold my car, and moved out of my apartment. Because of that, I felt in no hurry in my time in Southeast Asia, opened up a whole bunch of possibilities when I returned to the US, and saved money in the process.

3. In 2002, when everyone was still talking about “when is the stock market coming back?”, I was trading what money I had left from the dot com crash in for gold, which was $400/ounce. The mainstream media wasn’t even mentioning gold. I met with a stock broker at Wells Fargo who literally LAUGHED at my idea of buying some gold, and told me it was a foolish move. 10 years later it has quadrupled in value (or rather, the dollar has dropped that much)….and the media finally started covering gold in 2008. I doubt that dude at Wells Fargo is still laughing.

And on the other side, I actually made a few mistakes. Shocking, I know! And this was usually when I went with the conventional wisdom, or listened to so-called “authorities” when I should have been listening to myself:

1. I got married when I thought I “should” get married. By who’s standards? Society’s of course! There wasn’t enough thought going into it, just seemed like the “right thing to do” at the time. I’m the “right” age, my friends are starting to get married, could I really do any better, blah blah blah. Listening to “society” doesn’t typically pay big dividends…clearly we’re not still together!

I wonder if they’re still together?

2. I invested in real estate in 2004-2005- BIG time. I thought I was going against the mainstream by not buying in California. In the end, although not a total disaster, it was still bad timing and listening to “everyone else” in my investment club, who could not have been wrong at the time- but were.

3. I bought dot com stocks in 1998, and didn’t sell a lot of them in time for the crash in 2000. I thought I was a genius when I was buying, but I had no plan. I would just read about a company, buy a bunch of shares of it, and it would go up. I watched CNBC at the time and they were cheerleading the Dow & Nasdaq on a daily basis. I would get up by 6 am before work just so I could get online and watch all my stocks going up, up, up! But then they didn’t. And then, it was too late to sell.

So what do we do to live the life we want, and shake off the common wisdom that gets us nowhere?

It’s sooooooo simple, yet, most people would never think of doing it.

Just stop trying to please other people. Let go of “society”, what your parents want, what you were “supposed” to do, or how all your friends or neighbors are doing it. Forget all the excuses- lack of education, kids or no kids, married, single, “not born talented”. It doesn’t matter. All of these objections are holding you back.

You just have to let it all go. All the voices in your head, the self-imposed demands, and the limiting beliefs that keep you stuck. Easy, and yet, it is one of the most difficult things to do, because…you often have to stand alone to get what you are after. Literally, make a stand, move forward in spite of fear, and deal with ramifications as they come up.

Today I was inching my way along the road, approaching the freeway. Everyone seemed to think there was just one way to head south on the 5. So I did what no one else was doing. I took the frontage road. And I probably saved 5 minutes! I don’t think that little move was insignificant.

Getting away from common wisdom, and the crowd, is where it’s at. So let’s all be different together!

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Kevin Koskella

Kevin is a podcaster and writer on living free, despite the crazy world we live in. Kevin travels full time and explores the world and how to achieve and maximize freedom in life.

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