Get Out of the Box!

lifestyle design outside the box status quo warrior spirit

Basically, there is someone living in any walk of life you can imagine. And you could be one of those people, if you only take a bit of time to get used to the lifestyle.

Inspired Desperation

When my girlfriend and I saw our original plans to teach in Korea derailed, we brainstormed some alternatives. One of the options we hit upon that really appealed to us was going to Dharamsala to study Tibetan Buddhism with the Tibetan monk community-in-exile. We would just pack our bags, buy the ticket ($500 one-way. Not bad), rent an apartment or a dorm, and live there. It was a crazy idea, but when we ran the numbers and considered our abilities, we realized that it was surprisingly doable.

And so I got to thinking about lifestyles that don’t fit the traditional model of the American dream or the suggested path for a young person out of college

Inside the Box

So often we feel that the only life worth pursuing is that defined by a standard, corporate job, a house in the suburbs, and a nuclear family with a golden retriever (or a chocolate lab if you’re a bit eccentric).

But what if that’s not what you want? After all, that life comes with a lot of restrictions. You can’t just take off whenever you want to, you owe most of your time to the corporation, and most of your money to the government.

What if you don’t want to buy your groceries, but would rather grow them yourself? What if you’d rather do your productive work after midnight, instead of when your boss decides to start the workday? What if the things taught in the school system don’t really tickle your fancy? What if you’re not really a dog person at all, but would much rather spend your time befriending elephants?

The truth is, anything is doable. You can live however you want. Somebody out there is already doing it. All it takes is the willingness to think outside the box.

Tearing Down the Box

The first step is to realize that the box is imaginary. The sense of security, the clearly-delineated steps, the safety nets: all of these things are values we attach to the life we know and the life that is sold to us.

Could you imagine feeling safe and secure living in the middle of a vast plain, nothing but a thin cloth tent between you and the elements, nobody around but your livestock? That is the kind of life preferred by Mongolians. National Geographic published an article about how many steppe-dwellers are moving to the city where they get a fenced in space to call their own. But the fence is a sign of danger, not security, as it prevents the ability to move, and for the first time in their lives these nomads are locking their gates. What is security for us is danger to a person used to a nomadic life; it’s all about your persective.

The second step is to start poking small holes in the box and changing your life to suit your interests. Don’t just go nuts and explode the box is one cinematic fireworks display. You’ll freak yourself out and before you know it you’ll be frantically rebuilding your box, vowing never to step out of line again. Instead, take out just one corner, or a piece of the wall. Change one thing at a time, and start small.

No matter where you are at the moment, you can bring in at least a small piece of the life you want to live. Whatever kind of life you want, you can have some of it now. Really digging the elephant-rider’s lifestyle? See if you can help out at your local zoo, or at least get to know the elephant keepers. Barring that, you can start learning about the habits of elephants and maybe even find some information on how to care for them. Becoming a mahout outside of India is a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. Baby steps.

After that, you just start taking out more bits and pieces of the box you’re in. Slowly try to find ways to incorporate the life you want into the life you already have. Question everything, especially if other people say it’s the way things have to be. If you’re really into the locavore food movement (as I am), and your ideal is growing your own food, raising your own chickens, and knowing the farmer who raises your Christmas ham (also my end goals), there will be a lot of people telling you how impractical you are being. But how impractical is it to get a potted tomato plant, or to buy your vegetables from the farmers market. What once was beyond imagining becomes the norm. A couple years of this and small gardening, and maybe you’ll be able to wrap your head around the idea of a home in the country with room for chickens. And so will your friends.


No matter what you do, don’t accept the status quo as uncontested. Certainly it works for a lot of people, but if it’s not what you want, there is no reason to force yourself to accept it. Think of it as the default (though again it isn’t for a lot of people), and go from there.

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