SuccessI recently joined Instagram.

I know that may not seem like a big deal to most, but it is to me. You see, I’m not a “joiner.” I’m the one who eschews joiners and goes off to do their own thing. Add that to the fact I have the tendency to love the unpopular and avoid what’s trendy, and yeah, this is indeed a strange development.

Although you’ll never hear me blasting any Beyoncé, discussing the season finale of Game of Thrones, or using the word “bae,” I also don’t want to be the person who travels a different path simply for the sake of being different. If you’re rebelling just to rebel, then you’re at the mercy of the same mechanisms as those who go along with the crowd just to fit in. No. I simply need to have a reason to embrace an idea, a technology or a habit other than “everyone else is doing it.”

As a writer, the upside of this quirk is that I tend to see more of the beautiful, odd and seemingly ordinary delights that others often miss because they’re busy following the crowd. Having a keen eye for the untold, underappreciated and unpopular makes me an asset for any organization that values such talent. Unfortunately, the downside of this quirk is that as a writer in modern day America, employers only seem to be interested in your work if it drives page views, social media chatter, and countless likes and faves. Sometimes that happens with articles related to topics that aren’t parroting pop culture buzz or inflammatory rhetoric. But most of the time, it doesn’t.

When you only wish to contribute something substantive to the millions of media bytes that are shared every day, but those who control the purse strings claim that has little value to their investors and advertisers, it can be a little frustrating. … OK. It can be beyond frustrating.

But that ever-present line between creating something that connects in an indelible way but also supports you financially and using your talents to create something that feeds your belly but not your soul is the most cliched struggle of the common man in industrialized nations. A part of me feels the lament is unworthy of constant discussion, especially in these times of growing wage disparity and economic hardship. And yet, that desire never goes away.

To quote my favorite film, “these are hard times for dreamers.”

Creative Daydreaming by Frits Ahlefeldt-LaurvigAs I wrap up my current full-time assignment at a local publication, I am once again faced with the anxiety of what lies ahead. I require an environment that values my contributions and uses all my years of experience and skills, but I can’t be so rigid that I forego a roof over my head and food on the table to achieve it. And that is perhaps why so many creative professionals and artists go on and on about their desire to “live the dream.” Some even go so far as to insist anyone who doesn’t do so is lazy, cowardly or unambitious.

I am both a dreamer and a doer, but I think shaming each other (or ourselves) into thoughtless and borderline irresponsible behavior for the sake of presenting the idealized life via social media, networking groups, and family and friends is dangerous. There should be no shame in working hard for our financial health, as well as our dreams.

So I hope in the coming days, weeks, months and years, if you see me on Twitter, LinkedIn or the ‘gram, you’ll know that I’m not preoccupied with painting myself as living this “perfect” life. Instead, you may see me complaining about a difficult commute to a 9 to 5, sharing a moment of laughter at a blogger meetup, or pointing out the absurdities that comes with living in a 15-story building full of characters of every kind. In other words, you’ll see the world through a camera lens pointed away from me, not toward me.

My insistence that I arrive at a new destination, trend or opinion in my own time is not a weakness. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the best facets about life, independence and personal growth. I may have been harsh on Instagram users in the past (I still don’t understand the obsession with selfies), but I get that many of them are using the platform in a way that suits their lives or their dreams. 

I just hope fewer people feel the need to insist that the only way to reach their goals is to walk the same path, embrace the same trends and present the same “perfection” that we’ve come to identify as mainstream success. I hope more people dream of a life where their ambitions aren’t determined by capricious opinions of the crowd. And I hope that we all find a way to achieve those dreams without feeling as if we failed because we didn’t color inside the lines dictated by others.