I was watching a movie called The Giver the other day. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but in summary, it’s a fascinating look at what it would mean if we were all the same. If we didn’t feel emotion; a world where we lacked the very fibre of what made us who we are, where conformity was the only way and individuality didn’t exist. I enjoyed it, not just because it stars Jeff Bridges (who I’m a bit of a fan of) but because it’s about the importance of who we are as humans. And that topic, for those of you who know me or who read Humatters, is something I’m very passionate about.
Being different is something that’s regularly knocked out of us when we’re younger. We’re brought up to act in a way that society deems acceptable. There are certain ways of doing things. From how we treat each other to how we behave in public. This baseline behavior helps to fuel our future growth. We start to change, to properly get a grasp of how it all works and how we can fit into this system.
It’s when we start school that this learning process starts to shift gears. Everyone starts to find their place, the group they fit into and how things will be for the next few years. With everyone seemingly taking up their positions, the kids that stand out are often picked on. I should know – I was bullied at school; not hugely, but enough that I remember it. It was mainly because I wasn’t perceived to be cool – I was different from those that were and, therefore, deemed a misfit. Because it’s safer to stay in the pack; if you look the same as everyone else, then no one has any cause to focus their attention on you. It’s that understanding that basic human instinct of wanting to fit in that stays with us all the way into our business lives. Why? It makes us feel safe.
The business world has – and in many parts still does – follow a similar set of rules. Where you start out at the bottom. You put in the hard yards. You learn everything you can, and you work your way up. If you are determined, you keep working until you hit the top. Then you’re running the company, something you had never really thought possible.
Now, billion-dollar businesses are started by students from their dorm rooms.
The rulebooks of today look vastly different to what they did in our parents’ generation. It’s mainly because the rulebooks not only keep getting re-written, they’re also being thrown out altogether. The next generation is shaking things up. This is where so many disruptive and fruitful ideas have come from because it’s these individuals that are no longer willing to accept the status quo. They see a better way, and so they chase what they believe to be right. And that feeling is infectious. The StartUp world is its own economy, with tens of thousands of companies if not more. People see a better way of doing things and rather than waiting, they go and do it.
Likewise, even in the bigger businesses of today; it’s those that dare to say no to the rulebook, that say it’s time to change, that recognise that we’re all human and we’re screaming out for people to treat us the right way. Those are the companies that are also proving that harnessing the power of humanity is something that is hard to compete with.
Today, the individuals and companies that are different (and that aren’t afraid of being that way like Elon Musk) are the ones that are ultimately successful.
A medium that has allowed thousands to embrace who they are is social media. It has meant a new way to stand out. All of a sudden people are no longer sharing things because they genuinely want you to know. It’s because it has a currency attached to it. Social currency. And it’s that currency that is traded day-in and day-out through social channels across the world.
While this has been a great thing for individuality, everyone is now obsessed with the term “personal brand”. Which means there’s now one problem, which brands are real and which are not?
Social media has given a channel for people to create something for themselves. While that’s good, there are also far too many people out there creating a persona of themselves that just isn’t real (you could say it about me. However, I can tell you that one of my weaknesses is I am far too honest and not so good at playing the game). It’s something they think that others want. So they create it. They build it. Before you know it, they’re much like an actor on stage, performing for the whole world to see but keeping the real person covered behind the curtains. There are many examples, even successful entrepreneurs who make themselves out to be one thing, but to those that know them – are something entirely different.
So what does all of this mean for you, the individual?
It’s not that you need to be different just for the sake of it. That’s what hipsters do. Being different means embracing who you are and showing that to the whole world. Because you’re proud of it, because you’re proud of what you’re like and what you want to achieve. It’s not because you want to pretend to be something else, so people accept you. So that they love you. So that they “Like” your post for you to show the world that you are someone to take note of. Sure, I take a heap of photos of my dog and put them on Instagram and Facebook, but that’s because I love the little furry thing and am quite often embarrassing myself in the meantime.
Different is awesome. It’s a huge part of what makes us human. We’re all unique. If we were all the same the vibrancy in how we live our lives would never be experienced. Differences create new ideas and perspectives. They are the reason we can experience such beautiful emotions like happiness, sadness, heartache, joy, excitement, fear. All of these things that help make us who we are.
Showing off that difference matters too. It matters to your friends, to your family and in a professional sense, it matters at work. Things are changing – and changing quickly. People are getting tired of the same political players that are just out for themselves. They want to work with people that are like them. That aren’t afraid to show a bit of humanity. That aren’t so focused on hiding any weaknesses they believe they have because they think it puts them at a disadvantage. It’s easy to hide behind a mask at work because it helps you fit in, or positions you above your peer. While it might be harder, it’s far more rewarding to show people who you are.
Maybe I’m being too romantic about all of this. Maybe all of this will just come across as a bit of a crazy rant. But what I do know is that our humanity is our strongest asset. If we focus more on hiding that away then showing it, then what is our future really going to look like?
A sensational quote I came across was this: “It’s just better to be yourself than to try to be some version of what you think the other person wants.” How beautifully straightforward and convincing is that? And guess who said that? No, it wasn’t some scholar or one of those life coaches, it was none other than Matt Damon. For someone that finds it hard to be themselves, isn’t that worth listening to?
This post originally appeared on Humatters.