What are the benefits of deviating from the normal path?
By being part of the hackademic community and thinking critically about education, you’ve separated yourself from your peers. You've asked questions like "is college the right path?" Perhaps you’re taking a gap year. Maybe you’ve dropped out of college. Even better, you’ve been hacking your education from the start.
Regardless, you’ve committed to taking a significantly different path than other people. This is incredibly important, for reasons I’ll explain below.
But first, why do people take the normal path? Let’s consider a few reasons:
1. They haven’t thought through their long-term strategy.
By the end of freshman year in college, we’re encouraged to declare a major, which in turn puts us on track to becoming a doctor/lawyer/[insert generic profession here]. But this selection mechanism doesn’t require people to actually think through their path. The process is too easy.
Figuring out what you want to do 20 years down the line is supposed to be difficult. And, if you’ve actually thought through your long-term plan, you’ll see that it’s littered with contradictions and uncertainty. People sometimes take a “normal” path because they can’t deal with this reality.
2. They’re uncomfortable being “weird.”
People have a strong desire for social acceptance, but go about achieving it in different ways. Some people gain it by taking a path that they know society will approve of. They have an aversion to doing things that will cause them to be seen as strange, because they’re afraid that others won’t like them as a result.
3. They’re aiming for average success.
If making a decent living working 40-hour workweeks is what you want, then by all means do what everyone else is doing, because it’s probably what you’ll get. Unfortunately, it’s all that you’ll get.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a normal path. It’s just important to note that a normal path yields normal results. You’ll get to live a very comfortable life, but the tradeoff is that you’ll be severely limiting your potential. If your goal is to do something phenomenal, this is not for you.
So why should you take a different path? Here’s what I think:
1. Competing is hard.
When you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, it’s really hard to be the best. The sheer number of people you’re competing against is brutal.
And if the way you’re trying achieve social acceptance is by being the best in a well-walked path, you’ll be constantly trying to keep your insecurity at bay. One solution to this is to take yourself out of the running and do something so different that the normal path can’t compare.
2. Also, competing is futile.
What’s more is that when people all aim to take the same path, they tend to lose track of who they’re actually competing against, and what really matters.
A good example of this is the rat race to get into college. In their haste to do more than those around them, students forget that they’re actually competing with thousands of other people that they’ve never met.
Except it doesn’t actually matter who has the highest grades or the most impressive activities, although both can be a strong indicator of ability. What really matters for getting into college, and what people should compete to have, is who has the highest capacity for learning and creating.
3. In order to innovate, you have to figure out how to access the world in a different way.
If you want to create something better than other people, taking the same path as them is a sure way to hold yourself back. You’ll be limited to coming up with the same ideas as other people, because you haven’t gained exposure to anything different.
But by taking a “strange” path, you’ll be able to gain a vastly different perspective than other people, and understand reality better. Armed with this new perspective, you’ll be able to access the world in a different way, and create valuable things that have not been created before.