You’ve heard it all before. In this decade of technological growth and Millennial angst, there’s a growing faction of people who advocate for a non-traditional lifestyle. In fact, I may be one of them. Or I may not. Let me explain.
A non-traditional life is one that doesn’t follow the corporate career path. It’s lived by an individual who doesn’t believe that a gold watch and a pension isn’t a goal to reach but a prison to avoid. Specifically, someone who advocates for non-tradition values freedom over a paycheck, and usually works in such a way that travel is a necessity rather than a two-week possibility.
For more information on a non-traditional lifestyle, read this post by Dan and Ian of Tropical MBA. But I think you get it, and you might already be living it.
However, if you’re a follower of this blog, then you also know that a traditional life, although not ideal, yields some benefits. It provides stability, above all else, allowing those who follow the traditional path to plan for the future. This steadiness results in positive life aspects that we non-traditional people, those who believe that the corporate ladder is a broken system, often overlook. Not out of hubris, though, right?
The first step toward reconciliation is to admit that there are positive benefits of living a traditional life. It’s pretty commonplace for nonconformist to vehemently reject a traditional life-path, but in reality, “traditional” became so because it worked. It’s just like my previous article on cliches. Things become a tradition when enough people have done it successfully that it becomes “the way” rather than “a way."
So, a traditional life yields positive benefits. Admit it. Also, a traditional life has aspects that you want. Admit it.
I’ve touched on it before, but a 401(k), a steady paycheck, health benefits, and unplugged vacation time are all things that a traditional life provides. In essence, it gives peace of mind through stability. That is, as long as your division isn’t downsized or the startup you work for doesn’t go out of business. But I digress.
However, a traditional life also provides social benefits that we may only associate with a non-traditional life. For example, when you live a traditional life, you sign a 12-month lease and commute to a local office five days a week. It sounds archaic on the surface, but getting into a deep routine like that actually helps you with your connections.
Committing to a location for an extended period of time allows you to deepen the relationships you build with the people around you. It allows you to build rapport with company executives and managers who may be able to aid you along your career path. It can help you find that special someone out at the local bar or farmers market.
So, rather than thinking about a traditional life as a prison, think of it as it really is: a nuanced life situation. There are bad things and there are good things. However, the good things result in stability and a deepening of your interpersonal relationships. Who wouldn’t want that?
Now, I’m not here to beat the drum of the traditional career path. I still believe in a non-traditional life, at least to an extent. While the main benefit of a traditional life is stability, the major plus of a non-traditional life is freedom.
You see, when you live a life devoid of tradition, what you’re essentially doing is living outside of a normal career path. Rather than commuting to an office five days a week, you work remotely from shared spaces, coffee shops, and the comfort of your own home.
You operate as a freelancer, consultant, or location-independent business owner, which means those shared spaces and coffee shops can be anywhere in the world. You don’t have a boss, per se, and you only answer to your own desire to succeed (in whatever way that means to you).
I mentioned it before, but all of this freedom means that you can exponentially expand your sphere of friends and influence. You can have a multitude of new and exciting experiences.
For me, I’ve been living a nomadic lifestyle, renting Airbnbs for 1-2 months at a time. The amount of people I’ve met has increased and the number of new life-situations I find myself in grows daily. This widens the breadth of my understanding and gives me new and interesting ideas I might not otherwise have had. Who wouldn’t want that?
So we all want the positive aspects of a traditional life, and we all want aspects of a non-traditional life. Where’s the give? We can only choose one or the other, right?
If you opt for the traditional path, you give yourself the gift of stability but give up some of your freedom. Conversely, if you decide to take a non-traditional path, you achieve freedom but also increase your instability. So does that mean that stability and freedom are inversely related?
Of course not!
If you can actively design a life of tradition or non-tradition, surely you can design a life that has both. Therefore, the achievement of a lifestyle that’s both stable and free is possible, as long as you want it bad enough. And let me ask you: Who wouldn’t want that?
From a social perspective, the intersection comes from signing a 12-month lease somewhere. Scary, I know, but bear with me. Only commit to an apartment or house that has the potential for a long-term Airbnb. A private entrance, nice neighbors, and an unobtrusive landlord are the three key factors. Find a place that has all of these, and you’ll be able to leave for months at a time and have someone cover your rent.
That takes care of the freedom part, except for one minor detail. Your job, or better put, your income. Stability with a company comes from a salary that can be forecasted into the future. So, to achieve the same type of stability as a non-traditional practitioner, it’s important to cultivate relationships with key customers or clients.
For me, I have a content marketing consultancy that helps a few long-term partners. So, even if my earnings are higher some months than others, I know that I have a solid base of income to rely on, month in and month out. It’s not as easy as that, of course, but the only way I built these relationships was by word of mouth, cold emails, and then high-quality work performed consistently over time.
But, if you’re able to create a stable stream of location-independent income, and find an apartment that can be Airbnb-ed, you’ve essentially broken the system. You’ve won. Now you have the best of both worlds. It becomes your prerogative whether you want to stick around for six months and build deep relationships with specific people in a specific place, or travel around and have “single-serving” experiences that widen your world view.
And the best part is that you can do both, whenever you want.
To sum it up, it’s important to understand that there are positive benefits to traditional lives and non-traditional lives alike. So, rather than trying to strictly live one or the other, choose to live both.
It’s a matter of lifestyle design. And if you can design your life in the traditional sense or choose to design it with a lack of tradition, it stands to reason that you can create a life that takes aspects from both. Good luck.