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Study hard and get good grades so you can get into college. In college study hard, get good grades, and gain experiences to get a good job. Work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week so you can purchase a home, a car, and save for retirement. Get married have a few kids, get them started on the same process and then retire at 65 to pursue your hobbies. I think this pretty much sums up the “American dream” (and it’s not really much different here in Japan). This “dream” gets put into our heads at a very young age. Before we can really decide what we really want. Maybe it’s time we think about it again.

For a long time I followed this dream. It’s what everyone told me I was supposed to do. A few years after college, I found my self in exactly that position. I had moved to Tokyo, was working towards my career and was even in the process of purchasing a house. The deeper I got into “the dream” the less happy I felt. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the path I wanted to follow. I was there because it what everyone else did.

My grandfather was able to purchase a house (actually a few) on a normal blue collar salary. Times have changed. Even with house prices falling it will still take many more years, even on higher salaries to pay off a today’s loans. Not only that, but I have realised that I don’t actually need to own a house at this stage in my life. While a lot of peope gain security from living in one spot, I feel just as secure knowing that I can move (and work) anywhere.

As many of you know, I quit my job, packed up my life in Tokyo, and moved to a tropical island south of Okinawa. The move was more to me than just quitting my job. It was a symbol of me breaking away from the social expectations. I no longer work 8 hours, work in an office, or wake up early in the morning. At this point I make less money than I did, but my life is actually much more enjoyable. I spend the majority of my time doing things I want to do.

So how do you break free?

Social pressure work the same way on people that a bully keeps others in line, fear. It’s fear that keeps us in line and working towards goals that most of us didn’t even choose for ourselves. The fear an come in many different forms. It is the the fear of being left behind, of raising your children in a bad neighborhood, being poor, being homeless, disappointing our families or friends, and many other reasons. For me, my biggest fear was being poor. As a child I grew up very poor. Living in a travel trailer and having to move from place to place.The more we fear these things then the more they will have control over us.

Remove the Fears

The first step is to get over these fears. Usually the quickest way to do this is to put yourself directly in the situation you fear. Are you afraid of losing of being poor. Spend a week using no money, watching no TV, no computer, and not even electricity. If your afraid of failing, try something extremely difficult you’ve never done before. In either case you will find out it isn’t nearly as bad as you thought.There is a great deal of freedom once you realize fearing the unknown is actualy worse than the actual situation itself.

Break the rules

The second step is to break the rules. Now I don’t mean to go out and break the law. That would be bad. However, there are a number of social expectations that we follow because we are afraid to be singled out and embarrassed. We are taught “rules” as children that are reinforced because we are afraid to seem out of line. Start questioning why you do things (or dont do things) a certain way. Is it because it makes sense or is it because everyone else does it that way. In the book 4 Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris goes through this with actual exercises to take. For instance, laying down in the middle of a store or saying no for a set period of time when someone asks you to do something. of course, don’t do things that cause incovenenience to other people. Shocking them by doing something unexpectedly or unordinary however, is perfectly acceptable.