When you make a decision that goes against the grain of the prevailing social pressure in your life, such as by quitting your job to start your own business, there’s a tendency to think of yourself as being rebellious, independent, willful, or just plain different. Other people may label you thusly, so you might start applying such labels to yourself as well.
Be careful with this type of thinking though. It could have unwanted side effects if you go too far with it.
If you’re willful and independent, does that mean you always have to work alone? Does that mean you’ll never be a good team player?
If you’re rebellious, does that mean you aren’t very good at disciplining yourself to work? Are you into escapism? Are you irresponsible and unreliable?
Am I rebellious because I started my own business? Because I dropped monogamy and enjoy an open relationship? Because I like to travel a lot? Because I don’t go to church? Because I don’t eat or wear anything that comes from an animal?
Rebellion or Responsibility?
I could frame many of my decisions as acts of rebellion, and sometimes it’s fun to do so, but the downside is that I can end up feeling like a social outcast if I do that too often. Thinking of myself as a rebel also doesn’t align very well with the truth of why I made certain decisions in the first place.
Another way to frame these same decisions is that I’m being more responsible. I’m honoring and obeying values that are important to me. I’m not actually rebelling against anything. I’m just making more conscientious decisions as I learn and grow.
I could say that I don’t have a regular job because I’m rebelling against having a boss. But it would be more accurate to say that I want to be fully responsible for choosing the work I do and how I do it. I also want to do work that feels meaningful and purpose-driven. I’ve created a sizable body of work as a writer, enough material to fill at least 30 books. Is that rebellion? No, I didn’t just rebel my way into so much creative output. I assumed more responsibility for helping people grow. I listened to people share their challenges. I thought about ways I could contribute. I faced some fears and pushing through limitations that got in the way of contributing. This path might look independent, but it hardly feels rebellious to me.
I could say that I rebelled against monogamy, but that doesn’t feel true either. The truth was that I wanted to experience more growth in this part of my life. I wanted the opportunity to learn faster, to experience more richness in life, and to connect with more people. I saw this path as an intelligent way for me to connect, learn, and grow in my relationship life. It wasn’t an act of rebellion. It was an act of alignment with values like connection, caring, exploration, learning, and growth.
Traveling doesn’t feel like an act of rebellion either. For me it’s yet another way to accelerate growth and learning. It helps me feel more like a citizen of the world. I also do it because I enjoy it. Many of my friends travel much more than I do, so sometimes I feel like a follower who’s playing catch-up. I think it would be irresponsible for someone with my global influence not to spend a significant amount of time traveling.
I did feel rebellious when I was initially shedding my childhood religion during my late teens. But today this aspect of my lifestyle just seems like common sense. Some religious people still feel the need to label me an outcast, sinner, heathen, etc. (based on the occasional emails I get about that), but I just see those labels as projection. They aren’t meaningful to me anymore. My old religion wasn’t aligned with truth, it wasn’t loving enough, and it was disempowering in many ways. Moving on from it was a form of graduation, not rebellion.
What about being vegan? This aspect of my lifestyle seems to be labeled as a rebellious act more often than any other, but for me it’s an assumption of greater responsibility, not some innate desire to be different. Other people often claim to feel the same as I do about the treatment of animals, but their behavior seems highly incongruent with their professed feelings. I feel responsible to align my actions with the reality of what’s happening; I can’t just ignore the facts and pretend that the animals aren’t being hurt. I love animals, so how can I pretend that turning them into consumables is okay? Am I a rebel because I feel disappointed in those who deny responsibility for how the flesh on their dinner plate got there? No, I haven’t been vegan for 18 years to rebel against the status quo. For me this is about doing my best to make responsible and intelligent choices within the context of a deeply conflicted society.
As we move into the development of stronger AI this century, it’s more important than ever that we learn how to accept more responsibility and make more intelligent decisions as individuals. We can predict humanity’s future based on how we treat our animals.
If you dislike the way the world treats you sometimes, you can start by accepting more responsibility for how you treat the other beings of this world, especially those that are weaker than you.
Convention or Cowardice?
Don’t be too surprised if you’re occasionally branded as a rebel when you’re actually assuming more responsibility, exercising greater self-discipline, and becoming more aligned with values such as growth, courage, compassion, and intelligence. If you enjoy the rebel jacket, feel free to wear it now and then. Maybe it suits you. But don’t let the world convince you that you’re a social outcast for making responsible, intelligent, and growth-oriented decisions.
If you want to see positive changes in your life, strive to become more responsible and mature, as opposed to just being different and doing your own thing. Increase the thoughtfulness of your own decisions, and don’t fuss too much over how others might label you.
My perspective is that I’m not going to let the world off so easily. If I get labeled a rebel for assuming more responsibility and for making intelligent and growth-oriented decisions, then couldn’t such labeling be interpreted as a denial of responsibility by others? Those who attempt to paint me as a rebel are simultaneously trying to label themselves as normal, are they not? If they can qualify as normal, then they don’t have to keep learning and growing. They can stagnate. They can settle.
This is pure cowardice, isn’t it?
Such weak-mindedness needn’t define you. You’re capable of making better decisions and taking action. You’re capable of building fresh momentum. Life doesn’t expect or demand perfection from you. But life will not be kind to you if you try to turn your back on your path of growth.
Let’s make the acceptance of greater responsibility a common act, not an exceptional one.
Let’s make the pursuit of growth a well-traveled path.
Let’s deny cowardice the ability to pass for convention.
Steve Pavlina coach
He has written more than 1300 articles and recorded many audio programs on a broad range of self-help topics, including productivity, relationships, and spirituality. Steve has been quoted as an expert by the New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, and many other publications.