Do I Have the Courage to Ignore Conventional Wisdom?

By Sherry Siska

A sampler of conventional wisdom:

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover
  2. You can’t go wrong with real estate
  3. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it
  4. Always shave your legs and wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident
  5. Do what you love and the money will follow
  6. When in doubt, throw it out
  7. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar
  8. You are what you eat
  9. Fake it ’til you make it
  10. No pain, no gain

The older I get, the more I wish I had ignored most of the conventional wisdom flung my way.

Don’t get me wrong, conventional wisdom is called that because it’s usually pretty good advice, especially the reminders to be kind to others.

However, if you bought real estate at the top of the market, you’re probably cursing the person who gave you that stellar piece of wisdom.

And, I don’t know about you, but if I’m in an accident, I expect the last thing I’m going to be worrying about is the state of my legs or underwear.

I also suspect there are at least one or two folks in the world sitting on their sofas, reading books, who are still waiting for the money to come rolling their way and wondering why it’s not.  After all, they’re doing what they love!

The problem is, of course, if you follow conventional wisdom, you end up being so, well, conventional.  

That’s because conventional wisdom discourages risk-taking. It errs on the side of caution. It runs around fretting and worrying, telling you to “stay safe, my friend, stay safe”.

I speak from personal experience here. I willingly moored myself in conventional wisdom’s  quiet little cove.

I’ve spent most of my life going along to get along, standing enviously on the sidelines, watching those willing to stick their necks have way more fun and achieve way more success that me.

Bothering the “Big People”

Instead of applying for my dream job, I told myself I wasn’t qualified. Instead of querying the magazine, I told myself my writing wasn’t professional enough. Instead of sending that connection request, I told myself that the person on the other end was way too big of a big shot to connect with little old nobody me. Instead of offering my ideas for a new product to the owner of a local business, I spent hours telling myself he’d laugh them off; after all, why on earth would he want to hear from some high school English teacher.

I thought that if I broke the rules, ignored the conventions, I’d make people mad. I’d bother the “big people”.  I’d get labeled a “troublemaker”.

So, I’ve gone through life afraid to speak my mind. Afraid to take risks. Afraid to toot my own horn. Afraid to ask for what I really want.

Time to let go

A quote widely attributed to just about every famous rebellious woman, but actually written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,  says that “Well-behaved women seldom make history”.

I’m not really one who desires to make history, to be honest. On the other hand, I do desire other things: I want success, for my dreams to come to fruition, to state my truths without fear. As corny as it sounds, I want to leave the world a better place than I found it.

As corny as it sounds, I want to leave the world a better place than I found it.

I want to be fearless.

It’s not easy for an old dog like me to learn new tricks.  Shunning even a little bit of conventional wisdom is hard.

So far, I’ve eased a little closer to the open ocean by publishing my novels. I’ve tried to be a little more open about my fears in my blog posts. I’ve, gulp, put myself out there a bit more professionally.

I realize that I’ve got a long way to go, though.

Every day I face a zillion choices. Most of the ones I end up making fit squarely in the realm of “conventional”.  I’ve not yet gotten over the fact that swimming upstream is uncomfortable and scary and requires so much extra energy.

But, I’m going to do it anyway.  From here on out, I’m going to make sure that, for at least some of those decisions, I go against the tide. No more huddling against the dock.

“A Ship in Harbor Is Safe, But that Is Not What Ships Are Built For.” ~ John A. Shedd *


* Quote Investigator says this one is often misattributed to Grace Hopper, among others, but, after a great deal of research, decides that Shedd should receive credit.

Photograph: Photographer: Stuart Bennett