Opting out

I’m grateful to be alive right now for a number of reasons, one of which is the upwards spiral of awareness and agency. More than ever, we’re exposed to the many forms a life can take and given the tools to pursue them if we so choose. Of course, to pursue these alternatives to normalcy, we have to opt out. When we get an email from a social media company or a newsletter from a person we follow, we can click “Unsubscribe”.  We can do the same with any and all ideas that a society or culture peddles.

For example, the typical education pathway here in the U.K. is primary school, secondary school, college, then university. After that, Masters and PhDs are available to those with the required abilities and achievements. But we don’t have to follow that pathway. We can finish secondary and give the finger to other people’s expectations of our education.

Ownership is something else we can opt out of. We don’t have to own a house. We don’t have to own a car. We don’t have to own a television. We don’t have to own a suit, or trousers, or socks. We can choose to own next to nothing. And we can choose to owe next to nothing. Despite how it looks, debt is optional. It’s possible to pay in full for our education and experiences. It’s possible to go through life without being haunted by the spectre of debt.

Even the simple things like relationships can be opted out of. Don’t want a life of monogamy? No problem. We can stay single. Or we can explore polyamory and sustain intimate relationships with multiple people at the same time. 

Careers—we don’t have to have one. There’s no hard rule that says we have to become a specialist and deploy our skillset—and between a quarter and a third of our life—in pursuit of someone else’s ambitions.

Heck, narration is something we can opt out of. Our life doesn’t have to have an overarching story, a grand theme. We don’t need to storify our existence, or the existence of others. We don’t have to listen to music, read books, watch movies, or talk to people.

More than you realise—more than I realise—is entirely optional. By default, we’re subscribed to these constructs and ideas. But that can change. Naturally, there are costs attached to opting out—some small, some extreme—but they can be borne if we’re willing enough.