Nobody wants to be different. Chat with any therapist and they’ll tell you that the majority of their clients bring them some form of the problem, “is this normal?”
We’re social beings, and even if we don’t like to admit it, we care about fitting in. We understand that there’s an acceptable narrative for what our lives should look like.
Looking at what your life actually is can be… tough.
Let’s say you blew a few years in your 20s doing an unconventional job that doesn’t seem to fit on your grown-up resume. Let’s say your job is hard to explain to other people at all. Maybe you made an unorthodox choice, broke the mould and followed your dream right into black-sheep territory.
In other words, you’re different. Now what?
Step one: drop the shame
Remember that life narrative I mentioned? The thing is, it’s a bit of a lie. While a few people have lives that fit the textbook college-job-marriage-kid template, most of us are breaking the rules in some way.
In other words, it’s kind of normal to be different.
One of the reasons we all assume others are having an easier time than us is because we ourselves believe we need to fake it. We avoid talking about our actual life histories, we don’t admit when we lack experience or the true extent of our failures.
Something wonderful happens when you’re honest about who you are: you realize that being unconventional is no big deal. That everyone struggles with fitting in. You are who you are. State it plainly and with confidence.
Many of the world’s most successful people waltzed into a field with no relevant education or background. Many success stories started with embarrassing financial failures or atypical career paths. Go with it.
Step two: communicate over commonalities
It’s not much use being an out-of-the-box thinker when those still in the box have no idea what you’re doing and don’t care. Going your own way is great, but at some point, you’ll need to find a straightforward, concrete way to engage with others.
One of my closest friends has never been to college, and never even owned a pair of shoes until he was 12 years old. But you’d never guess it. He has a relaxed, likeable way of connecting with people of all kinds.
How? He speaks to their common ground.
When you talk to anyone about your unconventional career or life choices, use metaphors and everyday language to create understanding. Forget about obscure lingo and break things down simply to appeal to people’s shared experiences.
Step three: don’t take everything too seriously
Oh, you’ve chosen a weird path in life? You failed in a big way? You’re pursuing a job or lifestyle that people have never even heard about, let alone accept? Well, you could hide away and act like it defines and constricts you, or you could put your shoulders back, say, “yup, this is my life” and to hell with whether it’s “correct” or not.
Sometimes, the only thing that separates the down-on-his-luck outsider and the motivational speaker with the same history is their attitude.
Have a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s your life. Most decisions can be reversed. Most problems can be solved. And whatever happens, a little time and perspective can make all the difference to your outlook. Laugh at yourself and be OK with failure. This playful sense of humor is actually the mark of a truly resilient person.
Step four: focus on what’s important
Many people spend their lives ticking the right boxes and jumping through the right hoops. And many of those people lay in bed at night wondering what the hell any of it’s for.
It’s easy to get hung up on the paint-by-numbers approach to life and worry about whether you’re saving enough, whether your relationships look like they should, whether you’re keeping up with your peers.
Having the courage to be different sometimes means forgetting about all of these details. Can you tap into what really matters to you? Unconventional, out-there, even rebellious people are often powered by deeper values. What are yours?
When it comes down to it, people don’t care about your past – they care about who you are, right now in the moment. Money and success matter, but people respond to those with vision and a passion for something bigger than themselves.
When you look closely, there’s often very little difference between people we think of as outcasts and failures and those we revere as great thinkers and visionaries. What differs is their attitude.
When you have the courage to be whatever you are, no matter how different and unconventional that may seem, you turn your story from one of failure to conform into one of making your own rules.
Are you different? Then be different. Speak up, tell people and have the balls not to hide the fact, but move deeper into what sets you apart.