If you’ve been online in the past few years, you might have noticed the rise of meme culture. This strange trend where events and ideas become parodied soon after they become well known.
Memes such as Grumpy cat, Success kid, and Doge were the originals. Now, every few weeks there is a new meme that overtakes social media for a few weeks.
The original use of the word meme came from author Richard Dawkins. In his book The Selfish Gene, he used the term (originally from Greek mimeme) to explain the ‘replication of ideas’. He proposed that our culture is built from ideas that breed and mutate.
I believe that many of us today are living inside a cultural meme. Many people, myself included, have developed a misguided belief that we are somehow ‘entrepreneurs, mavericks, and disruptors’.
We have developed a false illusion that we are somehow unconventional compared to everyone else.
We all fancy ourselves like a modern day Henry David Thoreau, fighting against the ‘mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation’.
But, what has occurred to me lately is that perhaps we are simply a part of the mass who are desperately trying to not appear normal.
Before the social media age, it was tough to be a maverick or an entrepreneur. It meant actually doing weird stuff that people frowned upon. Like living in a basement, or having no job, or wearing strange clothes. It meant working towards goals that made no sense to anyone.
Nowadays, that oddball persona is somehow celebrated. At least up to a point.
A few weeks ago, as I was traveling, I found myself taking photos and posting them on my social media. All the while I was thinking how unique and unconventional my life is compared to ‘most people’. That was until I had a rude awakening: most of my travel photos were in the same spots as other people, eating at the same restaurants, and actually enjoying the same experiences.
In that moment, I had to admit that… gasp… I was ‘most people’.
I realized that my belief that I am somehow unconventional is basically bullshit. I am maybe 20% unconventional, but for the most part, I am much the same as everyone else.
I like to have a nice home, I like to drive a decent car, I like financial security and control. In these ways, I am completely conventional.
The desire to be unique is simply part of being human. By trying to show the world you are different, you are just being conventional.
There is nothing wrong with having ambitions and strong desires to do something unique with your life. But cultivating the image of an unconventional life is not the same thing as actually living one.
You are not changing the world by posting about it on Instagram. Travel pictures don’t make you unique, they make you a tourist. Learning code doesn’t make you the next Steve Jobs. Talking about a business idea doesn’t make you the next Elon Musk.
Perhaps the solution here is to stop trying to show the world how unconventional you are and accept that you – just like everyone else – are simply trying to be valued.
The best way I know to be valued is to become valuable. Give to others, and work to become exceptional at what you do. In this way, you stand out on merit, instead of a cultivated image.