Non-Conformity, My Ass; or Why We’re All a Bunch of Posers

Beware of any enterprise that requires a new set of clothes.” –– Henry David Thoreau

DisobeyRat Race. Trend. Fad. Blind leading the blind. Mainstream.

A lot of names, one thing: conformity. And I do my best to question what’s popular as much as possible.

But the question is this: If you’re going to question everything, shouldn’t you also question your questioning? Shouldn’t you challenge the desire itself to question?

I agree with this sentiment. I often feel that questioning everything simply leads to blindness of a different flavor. Rejecting everything simply because it is popular is just as stupid as following everything trend that pops up because you’re afraid of not fitting in.

Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time bashing the mainstream (see here, here and here). I constantly exhort people to question their unconscious domestication. I encourage people to question society, their parents, their boss, and themselves. And to question, of course, authority.

Since a young age — since, I don’t know, around the age of 6 — I’ve always questioned things. In high school, I was one of those grunge/punk kids that rebelled against “the system” (until I dropped out due to boredom, that is). I eventually went to college and dropped out of that, too. Not because I was lazy, but because I never intended on getting a degree. I chose to go to classes that I was interested in, instead of following core requirements and a major program. I’m not trying to downplay the value of diplomas, or degrees, but the path of self education has always felt the most right for me. (See: becoming a raw foodist, Jeet Kune Do, blogging, drumming, writing, web design, and reading at least one book a week.) I commend those that follow the traditional path of education deliberately (instead of doing it because they’re told it’s a good idea). It just wasn’t for me, personally.

So anyway — back to the story: During my short-lived high school days, I wanted to disengage from the machine. So I became “anti-everything.” I rejected popular notions, traditions, belief-systems, religions, and anything classical, formal, or institutionalized.

Non-conformity = street cred.

Now this was something I was really proud of back in the day. It was everything street cred and a serious symbol of how “real” you were. It was a seal of renegade pride to not wear anything with a label or brand name. If you were a true non-conformist, you didn’t listen to music that was on the radio. You read books and listened to music that were considered “underground,” and often admired artists simply because they were unknown. We called this being real.

If you want to meet a real non-conformist (hell, the title of his blog is The Art of Non-Conformity. Helloooo.) I suggest you check out Chris’s blog. He also has a really badass free ebook called A Brief Guide to World Domination. You won’t be disappointed. Plus you can’t be even if you wanted to. It’s free.

Before I talk about the pitfalls of this approach, I’ll say a bit about the reasoning for questioning authority and all things popular.

See, if you’re really down, if you’re really with it, then you know that the whole reason for non-conformism is to not live unconsciously. It’s to get in touch with who you really are and express your own individuality. This is wonderful. This is beautiful.

While it doesn’t happen all the time, I occasionally get criticized for admonishing other people to follow their own path and rejecting the mainstream. Following your own path, for the sake of being different, isn’t very smart when you’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

That’s because modeling the success of other people is often one of the quickest ways to become successful. I have nothing against this. I don’t think it’s wrong, but it only makes sense if that’s really a deliberate choice.

We’re all a bunch of posers.

If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.” —Bill Vaughan

We all live our lives within a giant melting pot of borrowed ideas. Our beliefs and views about ourselves and the world are nothing more than a collage of things we’ve heard from other people, or ideas we’ve picked up and patched over our existing mesh of ideas along the way. We can pick up new ideas, new beliefs at any time and shed the old skin of what we no longer identify with.

So yes, in a way, nothing is original. Nothing is unique. We all have the same DNA, just arranged differently.

We’re all saying the same thing, in different tones. We only perceive it as different because we’re reorganizing the notes on the ledger. A musician may play the notes at different lengths, in different time signatures and varying progressions and keys. But they’re all the same notes.

Studying martial arts and Jeet Kune Do has led me to see that conformity to systems of fighting doesn’t make much sense. Placing your attacks and defenses into set patterns leaves you fixed and immovable when real life happens. Fighting, like real life, is alive. It’s dynamic. Bruce Lee was known for rebelling against all styles because he said “We all have two feet and two legs. How can there be any other style of fighting, unless you have three feet or three legs?”

In the same way, we’re all living life with the same stuff. We all work, sleep, and eat the same way. Though we might have different expressions of these things, we all put on our pants the same way.

So yes, blindly rejecting the mainstream is pretty stupid. Non-conformity for the sake of non-conforming is still conformity.

Rejecting all patterns and styles blindly is still a pattern.

Do I think that rejecting everything because it’s popular is conformity masked as some rebel badge of “with-it-ness” or a sign of how “real” you are? Yes, I do. I think it’s just as unconscious as blindly following trends. But I also think that questioning is a deeply sacred part of life. Yes, it can become lame when questioning everything becomes an institution in and of itself. But I think it’s a better alternative to some other traditions (see: not questioning a book written over 2,000 years ago).

So yes, I’m a conformist. And I encourage you to be one, too. After all, non-conformity can be quite ugly taken to the extreme. You wouldn’t want to chop off all your limbs or stop wearing pants for the sake of being different, right? I didn’t think so.

What this all comes down to is…

Living deliberately.

If you want to wear chucks and cardigans as a badge of your indie-ness, go right ahead. If you like rules, routines, and detailed plans, do that. Follow trends or boycott them. Avoid all cliques or be a scenester. Embrace the system or rage against it, but do so consciously and deliberately. And remember, life is dynamic and you’re alive, and therefore subject to change. If you rejected something because you thought it was trendy and you found out later that you really did like it, be honest with yourself and accept that.

Free spirit or group-think, express yourself authentically. Accept that who you are now and what you believe now may not be the same in 5 years or 5 minutes.

Embrace your aliveness. Embrace that you might not recognize who you were yesterday and that’s okay. As you grow and change, so will your dreams and desires. The good news is that your integrity never changes. It’s always nudging you to accept what you really feel. It doesn’t differentiate between what’s popular and what’s not. It just knows what is. Call it intuition, your conscience, whatever you like; it’s probably a good idea to listen to it. When I do, things just seem to work a whole lot better than when I resist and try to “rebel” against things because of their homogeneity.

You might also be wondering: if I really don’t think that mainstream ideas are evil, why do I continually write posts in a way that comes at things from an unconventional angle? Why do I write articles with titles like “Productivity is a Waste of Time” and “If It’s a Good Idea… Don’t Do It”? Is it because I think that unconventional ideas are better? No, I don’t.

I just happen to get bored reading the same things all the time. I like to explore uncommon, lesser seen angles to view things from. Everything conventional is already being said, anyway; why would I want to repeat the same echo?

The whole unconventional, counter-intuitive thing is my style. It’s the way I like to do things, but it’s just my flavor. It’s nothing different, really.

It’s just my way of rearranging the notes.

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CedricSSG“You can’t adjust. You can’t fit in…You’re a nonconformist… Live in the world around you.” – alcuin9thyearEmma GrosvenorGeorge Recent comment authors
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Marc and Angel Hack Life

I love your points. It’s not so much about beating to your own drum (or to someone else’s), it’s about pursuing the things that interest you.

And yes…

Nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity is conformity!

Thanks for the link. ;-)


Correction: Nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity is anti-conformity!

nonconformity isn’t a choice in the noncomformist.


I really like your reference to music being all the same notes. I play free improvisation so it`s not always the same notes, sometimes it`s scratches or long tones of noise or bangs and pops, but underneath that I still feel that I`m playing something that has been done before. Free improvisation, along with atonal and more noise-based 20th century music, tends to strike the listener as sounding random and new I think, but for me it is really all just the same notes or noises or sounds we may hear somewhere else, just rearranged into a time frame and… Read more »

Chris Guillebeau


Great article, and thanks so much for the mention. I’m honored. More importantly, I respect you pushing the boundaries and helping us all think deeper. Keep it up.

Mike Stankavich

If I say “great post, preach on Brother!”, does that make me a conformist? Maybe if I find some trivial grammar error or awkward phrasing I can be a contrarian. But guess what, you’re right. It just doesn’t matter. If you are being authentic to your own principles and values, it’s all good regardless of alignment with expectations or norms.

Nathalie Lussier

I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes. So confirming was my thing. After graduating from Software Engineering, and working for about 2 years through internships, I knew there was something else out there.

Of course it helped that I went raw about 2 years before I graduated. I met people who weren’t a part of the system, and yes, they do have their own “conformity” (raw food, all raw, all the time!) but it was still better than what I was eating before. It also helped to open myself up to new possibilities.


Great post. While youth was seen as the playground of nonconformity on the way to self-discovery, I think more middle-age people are feeling free enough to shed beliefs and habits that previously defined them. Even nonconformity has peer pressure, as in underground bands you “should” be listening to, or claiming to wear t-shirts that are ironic instead of admitting it was $1 at the thrift store. It’s more than just questioning; it’s about listening to answers no one else is hearing, and is often a rather lonely business. I’ve known a lot of folks who happily danced to the sound… Read more »

Jay Schryer

Yes, yes, YES! Since my days in college, I have often marveled at the fact that everyone who wanted to be “different” always looked the same. They acted the same, listened to the same music, and hung out at the same parties. Thank you so much for letting me know that I’m not the oly person who ever noticed it! On a deeper level, I really like how you are encouraging people to live more authentically. Not just with this post, but your whole blog is really a great inspiration. You (and Chris, too, since you mentioned him here) are… Read more »


Barely a quarter of the way through your article, I had made up my mind to leave a comment regarding how wrong I felt your presumptions were. Your immediate connection of questioning everything to rejecting everything was, in my opinion, a misunderstanding of what it is to question. If you think that questioning is rejecting, then what have you questioned? You had an answer in your mind before you asked a thing. I’m glad that I decided to finish your article. As it turns out, my grievances were merely over your choice of words and not your ideas. As you… Read more »

Roger - A Content Life

Great post! It definitely made me thing.

I don’t view the goal as conformity or non-conformity, but as seeing reality clearly.


@ Pearl: I actually heard the part about rearranging the notes first from Billy Corgan. It definitely stuck with me. How’s your music going? @ Chris: Thanks for stopping by. It was only right to mention the *true* non-conformist. I’m just a poser ;-] @ Nathalie: Us raw foodists are a motley crew of rebels and skalliewags, I must say. It’s kind of hard not to let something like raw food lead you to discover more authentic things when it’s so off the beaten path. That’s cool to know that you went all raw though, I never knew that. @… Read more »

Marcus Friedman ( ellipsys ... )

Hi Jonathan! To such an interesting post, I could only add this excerpt taken from the ‘Tao Te Ching’ :

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!”

Best regards,

Mark Smith

As a former punk (Sex Pistols type punk) who secretly listened to top 40 in his bedroom when nobody was looking, I really appreciate this. ;-)



[…] I was reading another of Jonathan’s posts, this time about non-conformity. […]

Ian Peatey

Great exploration of, what I consider to be, one of the great challenges we all face. Namely how to simultaneously hold both our sameness as human beings (our conformity) and our uniqueness as individuals (our non-conformity).

As I see it, neither extreme is helpful. When I blindly, unquestioningly conform to everything I lose my sense of self. When I challenge and reject everything, I lose my connection to the human race. Navigating the path between the two extremes is my greatest challenge.

Love the article!

Jens Upton

Hiya just read this great post. I agree with what you’re saying. I’ve been called non-conformist by some, a conformist by others and most of them only looked at me, heard briefly what I was saying, asked very few questions, made assumptions. A sequence common to us all i suspect. I think we’re all seeking self expression through a variety of pursuits and many (maybe all) become habitual and we conform to another pattern. Living deliberately as you say, or in the way you feel is best, is what life can be about. Especially when enjoying happiness as a result.… Read more »


well done!

Writer's Coin

Dude, right on man. You made me think of two Bruce Lee quotes I absolutely love: A martial artist has to take responsibility for himself and face the consequences of his own doing. To have no technique, there is no opponent, because the word “I” does not exist. When the opponent expands I contract and when he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit, it hits all by itself. Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless… Read more »

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

Where my mind is now is in the realm of non-being and trying to avoid hyper-intentional actions. As you said, trying to be something (even if it’s something different) is still conforming. When we stop trying “be somebody,” we are truly free. We should, therefore, try our best to “be nobody.” “You spent the first half of your life becoming somebody. Now you can work on becoming nobody, which is really somebody. For when you become nobody there is no tension, no pretense, no one trying to be anyone or anything. The natural state of the mind shines through unobstructed… Read more »

Nadia - Happy Lotus

As a former punk rebel myself, I know exactly what you are talking about. I don’t regret a single thing that I did. In the end, it is all about living your own truth and allowing others the same. We all want the same things in life…we just go about it differently. Another example of how awesome life can be.

Great post!


Hi Johnathan,

I agree with what you say, “Thou shalt question/rebel is just another conformity”.

I have a challenge for you. Remove “just” from “It’s just my way of rearranging the notes.” I think it makes a significant difference.


“Just do you.”

Period. Regardless of what other people are doing.

Nice post.

Mark Foo |

Hi Jonathan,

I’ve always believed that one should never follow (anything) blindly. Be it fashion, philosophies, principles, career choices, etc. I think everything should be applied and/or adapted accordingly and flexibly.

I just could never have communicated the concept as eloquently as you did. I especially like the way you put it – Living Deliberately. I think it sums it up all.

Thanks for the great work!



Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

I agree that we must be who the hell we are. I also reserve the right to change my mind frequently. I rebel against employment because I think it’s slavery. I’m b not inspiring freedom because most are enslaved. I inspire freedom because it’s what does bring us alive.

I don’t agree with this. “So yes, in a way, nothing is original. Nothing is unique. We all have the same DNA, just arranged differently.”

That belief kills authentic expression. Although it hasn’t with you. :) I think we are better off to believe that we can at anytime create something new.

ChristiaanH @ Mind the Beginner

Of all the skills in life this must be one of the most valuable… ruthless honesty towards everything. Question everything, Including the questioning, the thinking… why do we do what we do? Why do we think what we think (and how do we think it.) There is so much of this following around, disguised as true honesty but are we ever honest about our own ideas and preconceptions. The idea alone that our ideas are a result of indoctrination by society and our peers frightens people. But why should it? We all do it and in that we are all… Read more »


It seems like there are three kinds of people in this world today:

1. Those that follow the crowd and conform to societal norms.

2. Those that dismiss societal and mass appeal without
investigating first and forming their individual opinions.

3. Those that observe, think critically, educate themselves about various sides of the issues, and then decide.

Let’s guess how many get to #3.


[…] you just a poser following the crowd? Check out this thought provoking article on the idea of non-conformity and street […]

Evelyn Lim

I’ve been enjoying your posts. It is clear that you put a lot of thought into your ideas. I also like the fact that you explore both extremes.

So, I gather that you are a conformist who does not conform. Or a non-confirmist who does conform when it makes sense to. Hmmm….you’ve got an interesting personality!

Bruce Elkin

Hi Jonathon, Another great piece. I loved the quote by David Vaughn and how you wove its idea into your piece so delightfully. I once had a 16 year old kid in my Earthways Wilderness Challenge program, say, “Everyone wants to be an individual, but everyone’s afraid to be different, so we’re all being different in the same way.” The kid, voted least likely to succeed in his high school, really liked cutting firewood in the woods near his home. Then he learned how to build with logs. Now he’s a very happy, very content log home builder with a… Read more »

Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching

Thanks for this post. I particularly resonated with the idea that, when we’re really listening to ourselves and our instincts, the whole question of conformity versus noncomformity falls away. It’s when we get alienated from ourselves and start analyzing every choice in terms of what others will say, as though we’re politicians trying to please our constituents, that these issues come up.


[…] I yearn for something to inspire me to do, to act, to reach. And, there are people who inspire me. But, I can’t rely on them to inspire everyday. So, I’m left alone. With a blank page and […]


Conformity is easy. When I chased down my beliefs, I found that most of them were borrowed, and all of them were trash. It isn’t terribly difficult to start with a clean slate. It’s just takes awareness, and releasing fears…

Tess  The Bold Life

We are more alike than different. To each his own no matter what it is.

David Cain

I agree with you. I’m not afraid of being a conformist anymore.

There may be a very good reason certain behaviors are trends; usually it’s because they are worthwhile.

If you have the habit of self-examination, conformism is nothing to be afraid of. You are thinking for yourself even if you do what everyone else does.

Aynos Siderale

Great post… It made me feel really alive. Sometimes I think we need to remember that we can choose. Thanks.


Ahhh… pretty cool. It’s hard to unlearn lessons taught long ago that do not apply to the “now”.

Erin Slusher

We are all scared we will come to the end of our lives, only to find it was not authentic. We want to be our own unique selves. Who we are is not defined by conforming, or not. Nor is it defined by our occupations. Many do live their lives in quiet desperation. I believe we are each capabable of amazing, incredible, world changing ideas and accomplishments. So play whatever note you choose with great enthusiasm. That will make all the difference for you and to the person hearing your song. I always enjoy your posts. Thanks for thinking and… Read more »

Just B.

I really enjoy your posts – thought provoking and just putting in right out there. Love the title of this one! Lately I am just living according to my true nature. Not sure if that makes me a conformist or nonconformist? Rather the latest mantra shared with me by a good friend – have no idea where she saw it but it really applies at times…. never explain yourself – your friends won’t care and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.

Wouter Meyers
Wouter Meyers

On the one hand what you are saying rings true with me. We all say the same things, or play the same notes. In the end every human being wants to be happy and avoid suffering, but of course there are many ways to get there and the path is different for everyone. For me the best way of knowing if something is for me is experimenting with it. Just pick it up, see if it works for you and if not put it down again. This is the only way to be pro-active in your way of living, otherwise… Read more »


OMG … back in the day we called it being anti-establishment … today it’s being non-conforming. I love it. And it has all of the same ironies now that it did then.

It really is true that there is nothing new, just new ways of presentation.

Seriously. Thanks for the reminder!


I wanna be different! (just like everyone else) This goes along with being nonconformist just because it goes against the traditional grain, or the mainstream. Through my various permutations over the years I have done my best to be “different” as much as I could through find others being different in the same way, or in a way that I admired. True nonconformity is being honest and true to yourself. By being against what is held up as “right” and “proper” one is still letting others outside of themselves define them and their actions. Pro-actively, consciously, and constantly fine tune… Read more »


I’ve been a social misfit right from school days but my tastes, preferences and the skills thereby earned found me many an admirer, especially of the opposite sex. Now, I don’t think I did any of that for the sake of being non conformist (its also surprising that people considered me non conformist yet expressed admiration for it sometimes). There is so much more to this. There is a question of culture. Culture does not necessarily consist of learnt structures. You sometimes feel like you identify with something, even if its from halfway across the globe. There is a lot… Read more »


[…] disparate ideas. How can you relate sex to ice cream? Why is non-conformity really another flavor of conformity? What can politicians and lawyers tell you about smart career moves? Try to find ways to shed a […]


why cant more people be like this?
we need to all drop the concrete concepts of conformity and move on to who we want to be.


[…] no rivalry between the bromances and chick fests; however, I have learned that, like high school, you eventually end up identifying with the clique that is most like you. The gender partition runs as deep as the Grand Canyon; you can be on either side, but having one […]


I can relate to your blog completely. I’m in college now, but back in high school-I also tried to be anti-everything even when I secretly liked half of the stuff I was rebelling against. I always knew I didn’t quite fit in with most of mainstream society growing up, but for the first 15 years of my life, I denied it with a passion and tried so hard to be “normal”. When high school came, I was bitter at and angry at mainstream society for making me feel so rejected, so I rebelled out of spite-Something I now regret and… Read more »


[…] a living, breathing, conscious individual, so switch off the auto-pilot and recognise that to get anywhere with anything you need to make a conscious choice to […]


[…] Why We’re All a Bunch of Posers – Illuminated Mind […]


every common man wants to b extraordinary
good stuff!


Thank you for your insight Jonathan! Glad to have your college background story!

I don’t feel it is our job to label ourselves, I think it’s everyone else’s job to do that– because that is how we are perceived by them. It’s the person who notices our actions that has the final say and ultimately it is their label that matters, not our own. I think Non-conformists are just conforming to what they believe, even if it goes against what a larger mass is doing.

Dana Nutter

Good article. I found it looking for reference links as I just wrote a short blog on just this very subject.

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