Get Off the Conveyor Belt

Excerpted from Freedom Without Permission.

The reason many people fear opting out is because of a paradigm of linear, externally-defined progress that I call the conveyor belt mentality. This mentality is holding you back and must be demolished. It goes something like this:

You are plopped onto a production line at whatever stage you’re supposed to be based on arbitrary things like your age, class, and gender. Then you let the belt do the work. By essentially doing nothing but what you’re told, you get handed certificates at each next stage. 18? Unless you did something truly outrageous, here’s your diploma. 22? Here’s your degree. Degree? Here’s your job (or so you’re led to believe).

Most people believe this and live it. It’s revealed in the kinds of questions we ask strangers. “What grade are you in?” “What’s your major?” “What kind of job do you have?” If your answer is not the appropriate one for your age and assumed station in life, people worry. “I dropped out of school to do X” is cause for concern to almost everybody, no matter what X is. “I’m a sophomore at university Y” is cause for comfort to almost everybody, no matter what you’re actually doing with your time at Y. So long as you’re at your station, no one much cares if you’re productive, happy, successful, fulfilled, or free.

Parents obsessively check their child against a list of averages on everything from height to reading ability and stress if junior is not “on track.” No one really ever asks who built the track, where it’s going, or whether junior has any interest in arriving there.

The conveyor belt sucks. It’s not taking you where you want to go. Aggregates are not individuals and your goals and abilities are not definable by summing the abilities and behaviors of everyone your age and dividing by the population size. Time to get off.

It’s scary at first, because your mind is trained to think that progress is defined by moving on the conveyor belt in the only direction it goes. Maybe really special or hard working people go faster, like the people who run up an escalator instead of letting the machine do all the work, but everyone is channeled in the same narrow corral moving in the same direction. That’s not progress.

Progress, for you, is moving towards your own goals and desires and becoming more fulfilled as you grow and overcome challenges. There are as many directions as there are people. Once you jump off the conveyor belt, the hardest part is actually discovering what makes you come alive, then being honest and unashamed of what you discover. It’s worth it. You can never start too soon.

The thing is, the mold-breakers who jump the belt don’t struggle any more or less than those who stay on. They have a hard time too. But it’s a different kind of pain. It’s the pain of working to achieve a goal they’re passionate about that has huge rewards when won, not the pain of subjugation to a monotony that brings you nothing in return.