Dare to Be Different – and Why It’s Critical in Life
“On your mark, get set, go!” With that send-off, Ida and her fellow competitors began racing to the finish line along the asphalt track. All the racers finished except Ida, who hardly moved an inch. The judge instantly declared Ida as the last-place finisher—the loser—and poor Ida lived most of her life thinking she was a failure. Then one day someone placed Ida in a pool to compete. Ida won!—because Ida was actually a water turtle.
Ida, like all of us, was uniquely designed to function for a purpose, but only if fitted in the right place. Our singularity makes each of us experts—standouts—because of our one-of-a-kind ability and not because of anyone or anything else. As Walt Disney once said, “The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.”
Your strength lies in your inherent abilities and personhood that no other person can replicate. Several scientific studies now confirm that a person is a dynamic information processor whose unique memories and perceptual structures lead to unique cognitive, affective, and behavioral signatures that no other person can entirely share. In fact, researchers at Yale University in the US have found that images of brain activity taken by functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used as a kind of ‘cognitive fingerprint’ that identify each individual as like none other in the world. Said another way, we even think differently.
Thus, it’s important to understand your thought process as well as your assets, what separates you from others. How do your thoughts distinguish you from others? What are your unique attributes? List them and cherish them. Use your uniqueness to brand yourself as “You, Inc.,” and through practice you won’t have to tell people why you are special—your characteristics will tell them for you.
And by all means don’t be ashamed because you are different or unusual. Underneath the pretenses that every person uses to cover their “flaws” and peculiarities is the unfiltered persona that represents our genuine self. Treasure them. What some view as flaws are considered masterpieces by others (consider that the famous Venus de Milo statue has no arms). Commonness only leads to sameness, such that no one can make a difference.
Others may share some of your talents and abilities, but there is no one who is identical to you. Consider your uniqueness like that artist painting a picture; even if another artist were to copy the picture as closely as possible it would never be identical. Different brush strokes or combinations of paint would have been used, and each masterpiece is its own. Copies never amount to as much as originals.
Your genius is tucked away within you, and you alone – even if others don’t recognize it at first. Albert Einstein was a misfit in the traditional school system, where his primary-school teachers reported that “the child had a powerful and lingering distaste of authority,” coupled with his late-developing speech. He did, however, excel at math and physics.
Now think about this…do people look at you as different? Do you even care? Please take a moment to reflect on this: why do you concern yourself with what others think about you? You are a unique, gifted, and special individual formed by a one-of-a-kind persona with experiences that only you possess. That is a fact. Now let that be your starting point and your living point.
Your life experiences thus far have made you the person you are today. The way you were raised as a child and the things that you learned in your childhood and growing years have come together to make you different from everyone else. You may have learned some things in a similar way to others, such as having respect for your fellow human being or to brush your teeth twice a day, and so on. However, you also learned many things that others did not, such as how to play an instrument, or to build a structure, or solve complicated science formulas, as did Einstein. Taken together, these learnings along with your general composition make you singular.
Celebrate the special uniqueness that is You Inc., and do not worry about what others think. Instead of trying to emulate someone else, or striving to be proficient in a field you’re not good at, embrace yourself even if oddly shaped or strangely wired, and think as the eccentric artist Salvador Dali did: “I am not strange, I am just not normal.” Normal is vastly overrated. You are an original design. Don’t try to be a copy. And by all means, don’t waste your time trying to conform to the norm.
Unfortunately, we are brought up in our school system to conform; to be the same as everyone else. This ingrains within us a scarcity mindset as we all compete for the same grades, the same schools, the same jobs, etc. Schools assess students based on a standard performance index, as though everyone must be at or above average. Being different just isn’t as prized as is conformity.
Even competition, long held as a method for identifying unique talents and abilities, no longer helps us distinguish our individual capabilities. It has gotten to the point now where some of our teachers do not allow children to win prizes for coming in first place with school contests, because those who lagged behind would feel different and “left out.” After all, we need to be the same or a version thereof, as this philosophy goes. Some schools have discontinued having competition altogether, so that little Jennifer won’t get upset that little Katie won a prize.
This approach tends to paint us with similar colors, mostly pastels. The fact is that little Jennifer is a faster runner than Katie. However, it is also the case that Katie is far better at math than Jennifer, but how would Katie know this if she continues to think she is as good of a runner as Jennifer and pursues that end versus perfecting her math skills? We need to celebrate and accentuate our uniquenesses, even if it tells us we’re just not the same as the so-called “winners.” Because somewhere, somehow, our uniqueness will make us a winner in our own right. It is because of this very fact that all of us are so wonderful and special.
Not only that, but unless we embrace our uniqueness we cannot fully succeed. Indeed, being different leads to the innovation and critical thinking that builds performance. Scientists have proven that an attitude of “sameness” is stifling inventiveness and breakthrough thinking. Our systematic understanding of the universe could not have advanced nearly as quickly if Albert Einstein felt obliged to conform to the same conventions as his peers. He dared to think differently, as did Steve Jobs, as did Mother Teresa… One might even say that these unique leaders dared to think. The contributions of these people have made the world a far better place. There are and have been, of course, many others, however our educational system and paradigm of expectations must change to accommodate the unparalleled genius inherent within each of us.
Bottom line, you must celebrate the fact that you are unique and that you have an exceptional contribution to make in this world. When you pass on you will have inevitably made an impact. Others will have been affected by your life and your presence here, whether you realize it or not. Those that you loved and who loved you will have been changed in a way that could not have happened without you.
So I ask you: “What’s next for you?” It follows from all this that you should feel free to live your life in the best manner possible. But in that pursuit, be an authentic individual. Don’t hide behind the wall of compliance and conformity. If you wish to look differently from others, then do so. If you’re a bit odd in comparison or in a situation, join the crowd – aren’t we all at times. If you want to take that next adventure, do it. No adventure ends in failure unless we fail to learn how to make the next one even better. No one can label you as a failure as we’re all “adventurers in training.” Worrying about what others think just wastes brain cells.
Excuse me for stating the obvious, but you have only one life (not counting heaven, which represents a pretty great future indeed). Provided that the way you live doesn’t harm anyone, you have the opportunity – one could even say the responsibility – to live it as only you can live it. And isn’t it grand that you are you – and no one will ever be the same as you – EVER! That makes you exceptional!
– Randy Kay is a CEO of TenorCorp/PACEsetters, a strategic and talent development firm. Prior to this he has overseen training and development for top performing companies, been a biotech CEO, Board Member for over 20 organizations, executive for Fortune 100 companies, and has published four books and several articles in business magazines such as Switch & Shift and Forbes as well as conducted interviews through numerous networks. Do you want to grow and develop your career and life? Contact Randy Kay directly or discover more at www.pacesetters.training
“You are the only you God made . . . God made you and broke the mold.” – Max Lucado