If you are a regular reader here, you will have noticed that I loathe the idea of following others or behaving in a way to fit in with society.
Over the last few months, I’ve spoken about the differences and challenges involved with someone tackling loneliness and converting it into solitude.
However, one element I haven’t discussed is the likelihood of whether we have been ‘wrong’ with our assertions all along.
Is society simply trying to turn us into efficient factory workers, or is there an underlying reason for why ‘the system’ works the way it does? And why it continues to promote itself as the best way to live one’s life?
As for the answer to this blog post, is following the herd such a bad thing?
For me, yes and no.
Following The Herd and Being Happy At The Same Time
Conformity refers to the process society imposes on us with regards to being educated, getting a job and living a married life.
Is it possible to follow the footsteps of others and lead a remarkable, happy life? Absolutely.
It all depends on who you’re following.
Our education system (UK) is a perfect example.
If you’re a young person who has his eyes set on studying medicine and becoming a professional doctor, then you know well and truly, that you’re going to have to get excellent A-Level results, UKCAT/BMAT scores, and eventually begin your tenure at medical school.
The problem with some of us non-conformists, is that we believe many people follow a trend simply because of how popular it is.
Now whilst this may be true, it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing.
In fact to a certain extent, it may be wise to follow what is considered popular because the sheer number of people entering that field or discipline may create curiosity in your mind. You will be more inclined to check it out and potentially get involved.
And let’s be honest, who would willingly avoid a good thing?
For example, think about sending your child to school.
Parents force their children into going because they’re painfully aware of the struggles a child will face later in life if they don’t attend.
They’re following the herd in regards to schooling, because of the positive effects it has on their child’s future.
Popularity and Accessibility
Concepts, ideas, products and behavioural nuances (ice bucket challenge) don’t become popular or go viral for no reason.
The key word I’m looking for here is ‘accessibility’.
The ideas which travel the furthest, are those that are accessible to the most amount of people at any one time.
Look at the growth of the FIFA franchise over the last 5-7 years, and the answer becomes painfully clear.
Whilst its popularity today is due to people following the recommendations of others, its exponential growth comes from how accessible the product was to people, and how fun the experience is.
In other words, ideas and concepts are popular depending on how quickly its target audience are able to achieve their goal in the moment.
In this context, people continue to buy Call of Duty and FIFA every year because they know the experience of endless fun is guaranteed despite the game being practically the same every year.
The same applies to the current state of the music industry.
Many artists and record companies focus on the same genres of music because they know that’s where all the money is. People will follow because they know that is the type of music that sells and is received best by the majority.
Achieving A Balanced Life
Applying the same question to the idea of how one could achieve a balanced life, yields the same results.
Look at the state of our health in the UK and US. Everyone is getting bigger, despite the continued pressure to exercise and get fit and healthy.
Why is this?
People are exercising in groups today, shouldn’t others also follow blindly? I believe it is due to the great amounts of effort and perceived time required to achieve the results they’re looking for.
Taking things a step further, going to the gym in order to build muscle/lose fat and gain weight is the preferred method in order to do so.
There are other methods such as bodyweight exercises which can help to achieve similar results, however it does take far longer and therefore isn’t as popular.
When Does It Become Dangerous To Follow The Herd?
Following the herd can only truly be a bad thing if you are participating in an activity that is against your deepest beliefs and desires. I.e. you’re doing something in order to not feel alienated or subject to discouragement from the people you spend most of your time with.
Many people struggle to think for themselves, however this doesn’t mean that they’re stupid.
Just because people are following a very popular idea with noticeable draw-backs, doesn’t mean they have no idea what they’re doing.
Finally, if someone genuinely wants to live a comfortable life, working 37.5 hours a week in an industry they love, paying for a mortgage, and married with 2.4 kids – then following the herd and conforming is a brilliant thing to do because it’s what he/she intends to do.
Despite being an entrepreneur myself, starting a business isn’t for everyone, as it requires a unique skillset in order to be successful. Believe me, if starting a business was easy, everyone would be doing it.
People get ‘normal jobs’ and follow the herd because it is the most tried, tested and proven path out there.
It might not guarantee happiness, but it is a good start into learning what one may want to do during their working life at a later date.
Don’t lambaste others for being a mindless corporate drone if they truly enjoy their job, and they feel their working life is providing them with pleasure, engagement and meaning.
After all, we’re all following the herd and conforming to our society in different ways.
From eating in a particular way at a high-end restaurant, to wearing clothes whenever we go outside.
I’ve noticed the happiest individuals aren’t those who treat everything as a ‘me vs. world’ scenario, but rather those who are able to look at what works and doesn’t work in society and see how they can change or improve it.
Do you follow the herd or conform to society’s ideal image of a successful life? What advice can you give to others who feel afraid to do their own thing without caring about what other people think of them?