Hey, Rebel, What’s Your Cause?

Until you’re aware of its bigger “why,” you can’t know for sure whether a fight against the status quo is worth having.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

I’ve been known to test limits, push boundaries, and buck my share of trends. But I would never advocate being a rebel just for the sake of being uppity. This world of ours is challenging enough that none of us really needs to go looking for any unnecessary struggles.

That said, I do respect the notion of challenging the status quo when circumstances call for it. In fact, I think that’s often the only way to create positive change. And initially, a call for any kind of change can sound an awful lot like rebellious pushback.

For example, I remember when I first became aware, more than a decade ago, of a market trend called LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability; learn more about it at www.lohas.com). The term described a group of people inclined to make lifestyle and purchasing decisions based on a set of shared values. Those values are centered around three intersecting areas of concern: personal health and development, environmental sustainability, and social justice.

The LOHAS movement was brought to my attention by Experience Life’s founding editor, Pilar Gerasimo (a quintessential LOHAS type). And when she first told me about it, it seemed a little “out there” to me — a little funky, a little antiestablishment.

According to the research Pilar shared, LOHAS consumers represented only about 10 to 15 percent of the adult U.S. population. But, she argued, they were making a very significant cultural impact, and were very well represented within Life Time’s health-motivated customer segment.

Over the course of the next several years, it became evident that this seemingly quirky group was indeed driving what would soon become some very mainstream market trends: organics, yoga, life coaching, green building, local foods, hybrid cars, fair-trade products, gluten avoidance, nontoxic cleaners, natural cosmetics, integrative medicine, ecotravel, socially responsible investing, meditation, and more.

In retrospect, none of these things seems particularly edgy. Why? Because on some level, the values underlying many LOHAS priorities just make sense. Who doesn’t see the advantages of a stable climate and sustainable ecosystems; the value of a healthier, happier, and more conscious populace; the moral and socioeconomic imperatives of ensuring basic human dignities for all?

And herein lies the litmus test for when rebellion is worthwhile and when it is a waste of human energy: Is it a values-based endeavor aimed at improving circumstances and outcomes for many? Or is it a self-serving attempt to co-opt attention, control, and resources for yourself?

If it’s the former, you’ve got yourself a cause. If it’s the latter, you’re probably at risk of acting like a jerk and making things difficult on yourself and others for no good reason.

If you’re defying a cultural taboo, in particular, you have to ask yourself whether you’ve got good reason. Just wanting to be different doesn’t cut it, at least not in my book. You’ve got to understand why the taboo is there in the first place, know what it means, and then decide whether it needs changing — not just for your own benefit, but for others’, too.

Ultimately, before you go rocking a boat, you need to be clear about where that vessel is headed and whether you are prepared to responsibly captain it in a new direction. (For more on this train of thought, see my column “Lead, Follow — and Get Out of Your Own Way”.)

There are some long-held traditions that I see no need for ever disrupting: showing respect for our parents, teachers, and elders, even when we disagree with them; cleaning up after ourselves and leaving situations better than we found them; making sincere apologies and speedy restitutions for the damages we inflict.

Rebelling against traditions like these rarely does much good, and almost always reflects negatively on you and whatever cause you may think you are rallying for.

On the other hand, having an open enough mind that you can embrace new possibilities is always worthwhile.

My advice: Be willing to stand up both for the lasting values you hold dear and the new realities you choose to create. Because, as the maverick company Apple asserted in their memorable 1997 ad, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. . . . ”

is the founder and CEO of Life Time Fitness.

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