by EMILY ORTON
This week we’ve been on the road. We drove from our home in New York City to Idaho, where our daughter Alison attends school. We stayed with our friends Matt and Mary who both teach at the university. Mary extended a surprise invitation to speak to her Human Resources class. The topic was conformity. It is human nature to fit in, to go along, and to roll with it. This class talked about being mindful of incremental influences. We don’t want to be on autopilot mindlessly going wherever the crowd or prevalent culture is leading.
We each have more control and more choice in our lives than we may think. There is a mist of gentle influences around each of us that persuades us to believe that things just are a certain way—that’s how it’s done—and everybody knows it. So, we go along. I am skeptical of conformity. Erik and I try to have a healthy disregard for what most other people think. Mary asked us to tell her class about our unconventional life as an example of how things can be thought about and done differently.
At the same time, I love autopilot. When we lived aboard Fezywig for most of 2014 we used autopilot for every major crossing or long day sail. In the protected channels of the Intercostal Waterway (ICW), we had some very safe, but very tedious days. Someone, usually Erik, sat with their hands on the helm every minute of those 12+ hour sails so we didn’t run into anything. Out in the open ocean, we could determine our bearing, click on autopilot, set the engine speed and basically supervise while Fezywig ran herself.
We can use autopilot in our lives. Usually, I would think of this as habits or routines, but we can use conformity to our advantage as well. First we need to recognize the human tendency to become like the culture or crowd that we run with. Literally. When I hung out with runners, I ended up completing a marathon. We can harness the power of conformity by choosing who we want to be influenced by.
Before we moved aboard Fezywig, we spent a couple of years following other families who sail. They became our group. We drank the Kool-Aid—on purpose. Essentially, we can decide what we want to desire. Yes, in many cases we have a choice. I find people who are doing or thinking those things. I deliberately give them space in my brain. Gradually, I absorb that particular brand of Kool-Aid and new desires form and deepen.
I follow so many non-conformists that it often feels like the prevailing mindset. I’m fairly conservative as a non-conformist. I’m curious, but not crazy. Sure, I’ll move my family aboard a sailboat, give three months to rock climb, or take a flying lesson. But I’m not rope swinging off natural arches like some people I know (my friend jumps at minute 1:30)
I believe our future is most accurately predicted by the five people we are closest to—living or dead—real or imaginary. Who are those people for you? Five or ten years down the road, your life will probably be an amalgam of their lives. So look at your friends, who you follow, what shows you binge watch or whatever input is most frequently trafficking through your brain. You may glimpse your future personality, values, vocabulary, work ethic, beliefs, style and interests.
Drink the Kool-Aid on purpose. Recognize the power of conformity and deliberately use it to draw you closer to who and how you want to be.
If you think this post might encourage someone, please consider sharing.