Derek Sivers

The joy and freedom of harmlessly upsetting social norms


My band was playing a gig in Oslo, Norway, when I struck up a conversation with a woman who was staring at me. Turns out we had read many of the same books, and we were super-attracted to each other. We talked all night, but just as things got physical in my hotel room, house-keeping came knocking on the door saying we needed to check out now. Right now. Damn.

I checked out of my hotel at 10am, but my ferry to Denmark didn’t leave until 4pm. She and I sat in the park, swooning over each other, both wishing out loud that we could have some more physical time together. But then I noticed that this park was surrounded by hotels. So I suggested something that felt kind of naughty. “Why don’t we get a hotel room for a few hours?”

She was pleasantly shocked, and said OK. But Oslo is a small city, and she had just broken up with her ex a week before. She didn’t want people to see us going in or out of a hotel together. So she suggested this plan: I would check in first, then text her the room number once I was inside, and she’d come up afterwards.

I walked into a nice hotel and said I needed a room for the night. The very polite and proper man at the front desk gave me a room, and told me where breakfast would be served. I thanked him and went into my room. She came up a few minutes later.

A few hours later, we left separately. I left first, and went to the same man at the front desk to say I’m checking out early. He asked if something was wrong, but I said, “No no, I’m happy to pay full price. Just a change in plans. I’m catching the 4pm ferry.”

After charging my card, he noticed her walking out of the elevator and out the door. Apparently he had also noticed her walk in a few minutes after me. Suddenly he got really angry, thinking she was a prostitute and I was her client. He yelled at me, scolding me, saying, “I do NOT like this! No! This is a respectable hotel! This is not some kind of pay-by-the-hour place! How dare you?!”

I couldn’t stop smiling. He had already charged my card. I had done nothing wrong. Nobody was hurt. They were paid for their room. I hadn’t broken the law or even the rules. I didn’t need to appease him! I smiled and left.

There was something so emancipating about this! We grow up fearing getting in trouble. First from our parents, then teachers. Authorities. So when you come into a certain age and power yourself, it’s liberating to realize you don’t have to please these people anymore. Especially in business situations, where you’ve done a fair transaction and you’re not breaking any laws.

We’re not actually bound to social norms. We don’t need permission. We don’t need to please everyone.

There are a few people around the world that don’t like me because I’ve done something that goes against their wishes. But if I haven’t harmed anyone, haven’t broken the laws, and haven’t violated my own principles, then I’m totally OK with that.

Even if people say I’m a bad person, it’s not true. They’re just saying I did something they don’t like. It’s OK to let a misunderstanding stay misunderstood, and move on.

So that moment, walking out of a hotel in Oslo Norway, was a major milestone in my life. I had never felt so liberated. And that feeling has stayed with me since.

(See also: “Happiness is letting someone make you the villain”.)

Vigeland by Mario RM
photo from Frogner Park in Oslo Norway by Mario RM