Reflections on Unconventional Living

For the past few weeks I have been following the blog of a writer named Chris Guillebeau. Best known for his blog, “The Art of Non-Conformity“, Chris uses the blog to outline his “unconventional strategies for life, work and travel”, and to recount his experiences as he attempts to visit every country in the world by April 2013. As I read of Chris’ exploits, and his wisdom, I can’t help bus ask myself where I am refusing to be unconventional, and what the trajectory of my own life is. As I continue on in my last semester at Penn State, my mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of “what will I do when I graduate?” and perhaps more deeply, “what will people think of me if I choose this?” At the moment, I recognize in me a primary desire for two things: to be challenged (and to succeed), and to do something exciting with my life. Secondary to these though, I have a strong desire to make money and to be seen as successful by my peers. What I notice though, is that my primary desires are most often overshadowed by the secondary ones.

I find myself overwhelmed by choice and its potential (though mostly constructed) consequences. As I ponder these, I come back an ongoing discussion that I have had with a friend of mine all year: whether the problems of the world can really be mended by institutional reform, or whether more personal efforts -such as those taken by our former Coach, Joe Paterno to mentor countless students into responsible men -are where the real difference is made. In my case, does the company I work for really matter, as long as I enjoy my work and am committed to assisting the community around me? I think the answer is that both are required in order to change the world -though both may be equally arduous. It is not enough for me to work for an NGO and sit back when I come home at the end of the day while my own community may be falling apart. Likewise, it may not be enough for me to choose a job whose function contributes to the furtherance of destruction around the world.

When I was at home over Christmas break, a good friend of mine posed the question “if the only job you were offered was to work for this cigarette company, would you take it?” At first, I answered yes, though after further reflection, I cannot say it with the same assurance. You see, my friend’s own father found himself in that position when finishing his master’s degree. Despite having two children and a wife to support, he still chose to be unemployed for five months until finally being offered a job with a food conglomerate. Although I fully understand the argument that smoking is a choice, personally I would rather not spend my life promoting the habit, but I wonder whether I would have the same boldness as my friend’s dad to choose unemployment rather than a job that was not in alignment with my values. I imagine that I may soon be presented with a choice of stable living and one that is more risky, yet less conventional, and all I hope is that I will be able to look back on that decision 10 years from now and know that my life has been time well spent.

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