Book review: Adventures in Opting Out by Cait Flanders

Adventures in Opting Out: a field guide to leading an intentional life caught my attention not because I think I’m leading a thoughtless, aimless life, but because I have opted out of many expected life activities. I read this book to find out which ones Cait opted out of and how she handled other people’s reactions. 

In this book, Cait recounts her experiences travelling solo while working and living in rental properties. She opted out of a government job, home ownership, and alcohol to name a few life experiences. 

Even better than living vicariously through her accounts of these opt-outs are her tips on how to make good decisions about opting out, how to do it well, and how to approach what comes after. 

Take alcohol. Most people drink. Not drinking means having to explain yourself to people unless they know you well. No one thinks you’re weird if you don’t smoke, but alcohol? It’s pervasive in western culture. No wonder Cait’s friendships were affected. Some people can’t handle socializing without alcohol. 

I’ve opted out of religion, having kids and a government job. Making a decision to leave a religion I’d had since I was five years old was not an easy or quick one, and it was no doubt hard for my family to understand, but I had to be true to myself. 

I’ve opted out of having kids. This one is hard for people to understand, especially because I’m a woman and it seems that the world expects women to want to have kids and needs them to have kids. I knew early in my adulthood that it wasn’t for me. I have no regrets about this decision, and thankfully I’ve reached an age where people have stopped asking me about it.

I opted out of a government job, much like Cait did. I can still collect a pension when I turn 65, but it’ll be much smaller than if I’d stayed until I’d earned my necessary ‘years of service.’ The lack of opportunities, politics and toxic environment were taking a toll on my health. I know I’m fortunate to have the chance to opt out of that path, at least for now. When I wonder if I made a mistake, I think about Jim Carrey and a graduation speech he gave. He talked about how his dad gave up his dream of being a comedian to hold down a job with a regular paycheque. After a life of denying himself what he really wanted, he ended up getting laid off anyway. Denying your true calling for security is a risk. That security can be taken away at any moment, so is that safe bet really that safe?

I think that opting out is more common than people realize, but it’s something we don’t talk about. According to a 2011 census, 24% of Canadians are not affiliated with any religion. That’s up from 4% in 1971. A 2016 census shows that 25.8% of Canadian couples don’t have children. My take-away? If you think you’re a rarity in how you’ve opted out, you’re not. Talk about it. The more we talk about our choices, the more we give courage to others to make their own opting out decisions.

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