That question often arises in the nonconformist blogosphere. Scott Young’s take on it is the most useful that I have seen. His thesis: successful nonconformers reap greater rewards but need better social skills than others to pull it off.
But these limitations ignore a bigger one: most people suck at marketing themselves. Even if a degree isn’t a prerequisite to competing in your field, the advantage of credentials is that they do the signalling work for you. The more unconventional you are, the less you can leverage positive stereotypes to define yourself.
This has an obvious solution: if you want to become a successful nonconformer, develop your social skills. The good news is that it is possible, and the even better news is that the article identifies an excellent place to start:
Much of social skills is simply being normal. Not “normal” in the sense that you need to have conventional hobbies, interests or beliefs. Instead, I mean “normal” in that you follow social norms—you make eye contact when speaking to people, you’re not overly arrogant or meek, you speak at the right volume…We see people as charming, largely, because they make fewer social mistakes than the rest of us.
Perhaps a group dedicated to this sort of improvement would be useful.