Breaking From the Herd

SheepSheep, lemmings, the herd, status quo mongers. The lack of anything unique. It’s so easy to fit in with the group, to mold to our social circles to fight our own uniquenes. Many of us spend our early teen years trying to figure out where we fit. How should we dress and act? How should we perform or speak? Who is our crowd? What is our familiar? How do we fit in? I get it, being an outsider is uncomfortable and exceptionally threatening to an early teen.

I was that kid. We moved 4 times in my three years of middle school. I just wanted to find where I fit and rarely did I. I was a hopeless mess trying to find some way to make my home socially. I was a chubby awkward kid who didn’t know what it took to fit in with the crowd. I didn’t look the part nor did I know how to act the part, but I was desperate to at least blend in. Could I adopt enough social camouflage to avoid being socially ostracized? I did just enough. I kept my head down, made no waves, didn’t speak up, just went about my way living to blend in and make it another day. Similar to the lead character in the book turned film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty I did nothing “noteworthy or mentionable”.

Over the years I grew out of some of that awkwardness, but that search for fitting in continued. But as I’ve grown older the value of fitting in has diminished. As I continue to better understand myself and experience the world around me the less and less I value fitting in. Sure, finding kindred spirits is of deep genuine value and that creates a familiar and home-like experience, but fitting in for the sake of fitting in is not as attractive as it once was. It’s not about being a contrarian for the sake of it, but finding my own voice in the world, developing my perspective and being willing to stand up for it. It’s difficult at times and that may just make it even more important.

We each have our own unique experience in the world. Once we attune ourselves to our idiosyncrasies and our uncommon view of the world we begin to develop a truer sense of self. It’s difficult. The status quo will battle us every step of the way. Oftentimes, the world around us doesn’t want us to change. Families often like things the way things have always been. Social groups often resist a new viewpoint. We identify ourselves with groups by what we have in common, so speaking up can be met with challenging feedback. And, let’s be honest, most of us don’t love receiving negative or even constructive feedback. Or worse, being met with silence or general indifference. I know it’s difficult for me.

Regardless, I’m stepping off into Seth Godin’s altMBA program next week. It’s going to push me to develop my perspective, work on and publish projects and receive feedback, lots of feedback. It’s going to force me out of hiding within the crowd and to level up. I don’t quite know what to expect, but I know much of the hard work will come battling the desire to hide within the herd and leaving the comfort of the status quo.

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