Conventional Wisdom: The Ultimate Dream Killer

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Conventional wisdom is, by default, drawn out of the mass experience of people…

Mass-experience translates to commonality, to averages, to medians.  When you live your life based on conventional-wisdom, then, it stands to reason you can expect to live a conventional, average, middle-of-the-road life.

Question is—is that what you want?

Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

All too often, conventional wisdom leads to Roosevelt’s “gray twilight.”

When sales exec, Peter Bowerman, was considering a career as a writer, nearly everything he read told him to expect a brutal battle ahead.  The only real way to earn a living was to establish a reputation as a top journalist, write for top magazines or land on the bestseller lists.  Most writers, Peter learned, scraped by and worked largely as a labor of love. So, why bother? That was the conventional wisdom.

Good thing Peter wasn’t into convention.

Refusing to buy into the collective proclamations of poverty, Peter chose to find a different way to earn the living he needed while doing what made him come alive.  He chose to see past convention.  To view it as more of a challenge than a limitation.  And, in doing so, he not only became the exception, but eventually took on the burden of spearheading the drive to make the exception become the new rule.

He researched the many different ways to earn a living as a writer and discovered a niche in writing for companies that paid extremely well. Peter then drew upon his sales background to formulate an approach to finding, then landing corporate clients.

Within months, with no formal background or portfolio, Peter was booked solid. He had more business than he could handle.

Time for stage two…

As others watched him succeed, Peter started getting a regular stream of calls and e-mails asking for writing career advice. After a while, Peter realized he’d given out enough advice to make a book. So, that’s exactly what he did.

Peter wrote “The Well Fed Writer” then self-published it and earned enough from that first book to live well in the world for the next 5 years. That book has now grown into a series of books, trainings and products that teach people how to do what he’s done, all of which generate a substantial living for Peter.

And, if he’d taken the advice of those around him before shifting paths, if he’d bought into conventional wisdom, he’d very likely never have made the jump into a career that not only fills him up, but pays his bills and then some.

Question is…what about you?

Are you stopping yourself from doing something that’d make you come alive, because conventional wisdom says you can’t do it? If so…

Maybe it’s time to rise above convention…

To explore the possibility that if conventional wisdom is what’s gotten you to this point in life, and this point isn’t all that satisfying…maybe conventional wisdom was wrong. Maybe it’s really not a barrier, but a test to weed out those who want it most and are unwilling to yield their dreams to the limiting proclamations of others.

What do you think?

Let’s discuss…

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9 responses

9 responses to “Conventional Wisdom: The Ultimate Dream Killer”

  1. […] Head on over to read the rest. And for any with dreams of getting paid to write, you’ll also meet someone who can point the way. […]

  2. I’m a fiction writer, and for the longest time I’ve found the conventional wisdom isn’t just “It’s tough” but “Don’t bother, it’s impossible.” It’s a real struggle – but it’s not the struggle people told me it would be. The struggle has been to break away from conventional wisdom, because I found amazing, surprising things happened when I ignored what other people told me was truth.

    I’m in the process now of working out my own truth, just as Petr Bowerman did.

  3. Excellent post!

    This is one of my favorite quotes:

    “…success is related to standing out, not fitting in.” – AMC’s Mad Men

    If you want to be successful, you need to be different; and if you want to be different, you need to be unconventional.

    As you said at the end of this post, conventional thought is there to stop those you don’t really WANT it that much to those who NEED it.


  4. Ethan says:

    Convention is a way for everyone to keep everyone else in check… but the herd mentality is very hard to break free of… it’s around you all the time and reinforced by the media and our educational system.

    I’m starting to get into all of this by buying different informational products that talk about entrepreneurship, owning your own business and using the Internet to leverage a small niche into a big one.

    What I continue to come back to is that everyone needs a trade… something to fall back on and that will give them the mental security that if they fail, they have a trade that will get them through. The next step in that line of thinking is figuring out how monetize that trade that you know well.

    I believe that as I try and monetize my trade, just the fact that I have one and will be able to go back to it should my idea fail gives me the power to move ahead… no debt and without child (wife and dog yes but junior, not yet) help too but the trade is the real safety net.

    Part of my process is to blog about starting the business… this isn’t to drum up sales or even make a sales pitch as my product is WAY different than something to do with entrepreneurship but through blogging, this idea of “What is YOUR trade and WHY do you NEED one?”, has really crystalized in my own thinking.

    Love the site and can’t wait for the book…


  5. Jonathan, what a great post and an important reminder. I think sometimes the path to success can be a lonely one–because the fact is, the vast majority of people are content with convention and mediocrity. You’ve got to be willing to fall down, to “look bad,” to make mistakes in order to ultimately succeed. This is a terrific post to start the new year. Much appreciated!

  6. tannage says:

    I think it’s not so much conventional wisdom we should challenge, but which conventional wisdoms we should challenge. Challenging everything would be a way to get ostracised from the herd, and we will always need a herd, a clan to hang with.

    If all of us were truly to be ourselves, we would challenge conventional wisdom at one level or another simply because we are individuals. We would stop trying to be who society thinks we should be.

    From my point of view, Peter Bowerman succeeded because he was the sort of person who does succeed, rather than because he deliberately defied conventional wisdom.

  7. Steve Olson says:


    You’re a fantastic blogger. This stuff is golden. For some of us, convention is not a choice. It is time reach out grab a hold of the future and pull it into the present. The future you want to make for yourself.

  8. David Burman says:

    Excellent post. People seem to be scared by seeing other people in a field they deem as more qualified and are too fearful to give it a try. I also linked your firefly manifesto to a blog i started. Its helping people cope with being unemployed in nyc (or any city) and hopefully will be a good forum for ideas and links to great sites like yours. Please take a look.


  9. Very Evolved says:

    I disagree with that definition of conventional wisdom. it is if you like the conventional view of what conventional wisdom is.

    It’s not the average or distilled wisdom of the crowd. It’s more about our individual assessments of how others would react.
    Conventional wisdom is what we think others would do in the same situations whether it actually turns out to be true or not.

    For example when you’re choosing new clothes to buy you’re assessing how much you like them but also implicitly how you think others will react to what you’re wearing – particularly if it deviates from current fashions.

    The sentiment of the article is a good one though – if you’re thinking about how others behave, you should also be asking yourself why you should behave that way.