If I could go back in time and give my awkward, chubby, baggy-T-shirt-wearing, 14 year-old self some advice, it would be this: fitting in is overrated.
Even then, with my grunge music and superfluous flannel shirts, I believed it could be true. That the promises of this world are not worth what we have to trade to get them. But now, as an adult, I know this to be true.
Things are not often what they seem.
Take money, for example…
Now I know that having money and being rich are not the same thing.
I have met people who made more money than most of us would know what to do with it and then spent it all. These people finance their houses and lease new cars all to maintain an image.
And I have met those who drive beat-up old trucks and wear worn-out baseball caps and are worth millions.
What we see, or rather what we think we see, is not always what is.
…then there's power…
I wish I could go back and tell myself that bullies are not big. They are, in fact, quite small.
I would also remind the teenage me that they never go away, so you had better start facing your giants now.
There will always be those who want to squash your creativity and belittle your uniqueness, but this is not power. It is the pinnacle of weakness and cowardice, and it's waiting to be exposed.
So gird yourself, and get ready to be brave. It will be a lifetime requirement.
…and let's not forget fame
Some of the most famous people I know are also the most lonely. In fact, many of these people have traded success for fame, content to be known over doing something that mattered.
I know people who have millions of fans and don't know where next month's rent is coming from, whose names you would recognize and yet whose own families have forgotten their faces.
This, sometimes, is the cost of a “cool” membership card.
To be liked and accepted by the masses is not all it's cracked up to be. Fame is a fickle mistress whose never quite satisfied. She will, in time, rob us for everything we have.
But there's good news, too
If I sensed my younger self getting depressed or starting to roll his eyes, I would tell him one last thing: what makes you weird is what makes you you (tweet that).
So embrace it.
All these urges to fit in and conform and be liked, these won't get you very far in life. And soon, you will see that the weirdos, the misfits, the outcasts, these are the people who get things done. Who truly change the world.
There is a downside to being too popular and a cost to having too much money. And there is a peculiar sort of wealth that accompanies struggle and lack, sometimes.
Don't fight these things. Don't dream of another reality or try to be someone you're not. You will eventually regret the effort you spent on such pursuits and wish you would have stood up to to more bullies, stopped worrying so much about status, and got on with being the strangest, strongest version of yourself you could be.
And as you move towards to your calling, that special thing you were born to do, you will find yourself accessing all the skills you once thought were weaknesses, those embarrassing quirks and personality traits you used to hate, and you will find a use for them all.
The things you wanted to wish away will become your greatest assets.
So now that you know these things, that everything that once seemed to matter actually doesn't, what're you going to do? Will you embrace your weirdness, or will you keep trying to fit in?
That's what I would tell my younger self (in addition to what I already said). And I would ask you the same.
[specialbox]Today is my dad's birthday, and I know of no one who has better taught me these lessons than him. But since you don't have the privilege of knowing him, here are a few books that explore these topics:
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell: This is a great read, especially when it comes to debunking the myth that you need power or authority to make a difference.
- The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth by Chris Brogan: This is a business book about why misfits, or “freaks,” are the ones primed for success.
- The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday: This is a motivational book about how you can turn weakness and failure into power. It's a quick read with inspiring vignettes from some of history's greatest leaders, and it's currently on sale.
You can also get one of the above books for free when you join Audible (which is a service I use, recommend, and am a proud affiliate for).
Reminder: I'm hosting a free live training on podcasting with my friend Jeff Brown who has over 26 years of radio experience. Click here to sign up to join us at 2:00 p.m. CST.[/specialbox]
What's something that makes you not fit in that you need to embrace instead of avoid? Share in the comments.