Individuality: Why Being the Odd One Out Works for Me

individuality

They broke the mold when they made me…but I’m guessing most people feel like that.

That was my initial thought, before I started going down the rabbit hole of self-awareness last night.

So, please allow me to ramble on and think while I write, and wade through my musings on diversity, individuality, and the rebellious misfits…and how I finally got my “outlier” identity to work for me, and not against me, as was usually the case throughout my life!

If you ask anyone here at the office about me, about my personality, my thinking, and my tendencies, they’ll probably tell you: “Well, Deano is…Deano is Deano!” My family would probably also throw in the black sheep analogy and a story or two of mind-boggling child antics and individuality anecdotes; the kind of stories only parents can latch onto and hold in their hearts.

And that’s always been the story of my life ever since I can remember. From weird child to weird adult, I’ve always been the odd one out. That’s what it felt like to me. The outlier. The unconventional eccentric.

Constantly drifting far, far away, off the normal distribution in my thinking process and my worldview. The nomad. The misunderstood vagabond.

But the truth is, I don’t try to be anything but me.

individuality

The origins of originality

Since a very young age, I’ve been a child with an adult’s mind. Too mature for my own good. I’ve always been able to know right from wrong. And take it from me, when you’re a child, sometimes not knowing is a whole lot more fun!

I tried to fit in with the “norm” when I was younger, but I often felt like a ‘fluorescent yellow’ color in a sea of ‘sensible blue’. And it was tough for me to become translucent, in order to become part of the majority blue that surrounded me. In denial of my individuality.

My family moved around a lot when I was a child; most every year a new school. New friends I had to connect with. New lay of the land to make sense of. New politics, new loves, new hates, new everything. I’d lost more friends through elementary, than a college graduate meets new people. And my school days were tainted with an inner struggle; to want to make friends and belong to a group on the one hand, and my urge to flip off the norm in an “I don’t care if anyone talks to me!” fashion.

So, after a certain point, early in my teens, I embraced solace, withdrew into myself and became strong in my values and beliefs, solidifying an attitude of “So what?” regarding anything that came my way. I naturally rebelled against anything and everything. I began to value my individuality simply because it clashed with what was popular. I was a one-teen army, against the world.

And it was music that brought me the release I desired from this pressure of feeling like the odd number in a world of evens. It’s in music I found other people like me, other outcasts and pariahs. None of them fit in with the sensible blue, and in that sense, we all fit in perfectly with each other. Rock and metal were the rebel’s music, the scepter of the downtrodden, and we all held its flame up high. Never in my life had I felt surrounded by so many brothers and sisters whom I had never met, but knew would embrace me for being me, should I ever pass them on the street. That really shaped my identity.

And ever since music helped me accept myself as being different to the rest, my life has followed a more harmonious path. Because until that point, I’d been navigating through life in search of why I am the way I am, instead of just embracing my individuality. I’ve become stronger.

Individuality, Uniqueness and peculiarity

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m unique and no one else is. I’m as original as the person next to me. I’ve come to understand that we are all unique in our own peculiar ways. Even sensible blue has occasional flashes of yellow and green. And that’s awesome. That motivates me to want to “touch” peoples’ lives and help them find their own peace of mind.

That person whom everyone associates with the stereotype of an accountant because they’re so cold in their logic and in their structured approach to life, is original. That person is as unique as you or me.

That person that always sits back in meetings, not confident in speaking up and expressing their views? They’re original too.

There’s a notion in the world of business and management, that not everyone is creative and not everyone is original in their thinking. But this is wrong. Everyone is capable of anything and we are all able to conjure up creativity in an instant, if we feel safe and appreciated. Our own individuality peaks it’s head. If you make us feel part of the normal distribution for a while.

So, screw that myth!

The resonance of bittersweet rejection

Rejecting the conventional isn’t without its challenges. There have been times when my ideas were too unorthodox, my methods too avant-garde, my ideas too misunderstood, my opinions too out there. There have been times when the diversity of thought and spirit I brought to the table felt unwelcome.

And during times like that, I still get rewound back to that feeling of the outlier. In a flash. Some of my views might spark a clash with other people. My thinking process might be nonsensical to others. And in that moment I rewind back to my “underdog” identity. Sometimes I bark (fight my corner and screw the system!) and sometimes I compromise (sit down like a good little dog, saving my fight for another day).

There’s no right or wrong, as I’ve come to understand. The only thing I can try to be is empathetic and patient (if I haven’t already depleted my reserves for that day).

But if there’s one thing that being an outlier has helped me with, it’s to become as hardy and as resilient as they come. I fall down? I’ll get up. I might get frustrated in between these two events, but I’ll surely get up. Knock me down and I’ll keep coming (unless it’s a real solid blow, in which case I reserve the right to a rematch!).

When you have to spend your whole life fighting to get other people to understand what you’re trying to tell them (because your views and thinking process is different), or have to find the mental reserves to keep fighting for what you think is right because it’s not part of the consensus view, then resilience pretty much comes and knocks on your door and asks you to become friends. I learned the hard way that accepting my individuality needs persistence.

One-path math

Have you ever solved a math problem in a different way to what is prescribed by the schoolteacher? I have. It happens, right? But I had to go against the status quo to prove I had not cheated. I had to persevere and try to communicate my way of thinking to the 5th grade teacher, who simply wasn’t having it. Result: The teacher told me I was wrong repeatedly and clearly forced upon me the “correct” way of solving the problem. So much for diversity of thought. That experience stuck with me.

My question to this very day is: What’s the difference? If I had reached the correct answer via another route, what did it really matter?

Now, I do respect the need for rules and set ways of operating; accounting, justice, etc. But if we take a look at the corporate world for a second and imagine the many applications of radical viewpoints, or alternative solutions, that defy “logical” methods and best practices, it’s evident that this is a skill set that can only enhance an outlier’s success and immensely benefit companies.

And this is where I recognize a superpower of the unconventional outliers; the ability, every now and then, to see things so differently to everyone else around them, that they are able to either pull the brakes in a project that was destined for derailment or provide a piece of insight that changed the whole nature of the game.

What is this superpower though? It’s a unique perspective, sure. It’s an alternative viewpoint, aha. But more than all this, it’s the nature of the rebellious spirit to instinctively go against the grain and generate something truly beautiful but neglected and overlooked. It’s solving the math problem by taking the route that only makes sense to the outlier (oh, that weird logic). It’s harnessing your own individuality as a superpower.

The Outlier’s Empathy

I consider myself to be empathetic. Plagued with empathy, since forever. Understanding what other people might be going through when shit happens. Understanding how they might see things and what they must be feeling. It’s been the paradox of my life and the great injustice that I can “see” and “hear” other people, but they can’t seem to do the same for me. I can peer in and understand their ‘sensible blue’ but they can’t bare to look at my ‘fluorescent yellow’; they can’t decipher it.

But despite the unintended lack of reciprocity, I understand that part of being an outlier is being responsible for extending the same acceptance and encouragement to fellow outliers. OK, to everyone really!

Diversity matters. Different does not equal bad or problematic. Different does not mean wrong or illogical. Different means coming at things from a different vantage point. Accepting individuality and embracing diversity, means respecting perspective. Seeing things through different lenses. No one’s right or wrong, and this is the truth pill we have to swallow.

But I always have a soft place in my heart for the underdog, the downtrodden, the “losers”, the rebels, and the misfits. And I’m driven to create safety for fellow outliers so they can thrive by being themselves. Because I know, I truly know, that the far edge of the normal distribution feels like an exile and is a tough place to live in.

Deano

Deano Symeonides (aka Tim)

CHRO of Talent Hacks and Chief Outlier Motivator (COM). He is a business psychologist with a passion for reinventing professional and personal development. As a content creator and a learning & development expert, his mission is to blend deep content with serious edutainment.

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