How to Be Unconventional

Graffiti of a man with a colourful beard
Photo from Picography on Pexels

North American media bombards us with slogans such as “break the rules” and “find your own path.” Demoralizing advertising tells us that we are not enough, so we accept these vague directives without considering what actually constitutes uniqueness. We then look for the easy fix—buy products that promise personality —and we end up where we started, yearning to become more ourselves.

You are unique. You don’t need to broadcast you character. In fact, silent confidence cuts through the noise better than more noise. That said, breaking conventions can be liberating in art and self expression. So the question remains: which conventions are worth breaking? When designing a product feature that people are forced to use, breaking conventions should not trump usability—it only leads to frustration for your users.

Beyond ease of use, how should we decide when to break tradition? In the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie talks about creating a subculture. Not by breaking laws or social rules, but by choosing how to live your life. “The big things,” he said, “—how we think, what we value—those you must choose for yourself. You can’t let anyone—or any society—determine those for you.” Your values are a roadmap for living your life. Once you figure out what you value—honesty, simplicity, human connection—you can start to align your actions with your values.1 Eventually, you may find that your value-driven actions are countercultural. This is how we display our uniqueness. But the end goal is not to differentiate ourselves. Standing out is just a by-product of living intentionally in a compulsive society.

  1. “Values” and “beliefs” are not interchangeable. Two people might value equality, but one may believe in Socialism, while the other believes in Communism. You value things you hold important. Beliefs are how you think it’s best to practice your values.
Written on January 19, 2019