When it comes to being different, we’re all the same. We’ve all felt like we don’t fit in.
In college, I went from being too traditional in art school to too artsy in business school. I ended up befriending a group of students from up the road, aspiring chefs who were the perfect mix of creative and professional-minded. Except I hated cooking. Metaphorically, I was still standing outside the window, looking in.
Not much has changed. I’m a 35-year-old freelance writer who has never pictured her wedding or felt the urge to have a family. But while I’m not surrounded by people who can relate, I have managed to be me in a world of them without becoming a hermit.
Differences are rocket fuel. They’re the innateness of you that nobody else has.
Are You Different?
Let’s clarify what “different” means. Not the dictionary version, but what it means when someone thinks of themselves as different, an M&M in a bowl of Skittles. You look un-different – you’re a human with a head and legs and stuff. That red M&M looks convincingly like a Skittle. But you feel different, you say things that other people don’t say, you have different aspirations or points of view. Maybe people treat you like you’re above them or below them or so separate from them they don’t treat you like much of anything at all.
Whether you’re different from everyone else or you’re being different from how you were brought up, something inside of you is pushing against something outside of you.
Isn’t that great? It’s great. You’ll see.
Define Your Type of Success
One person’s dream may be a 9-to-5 that pays enough to support a growing family. Another person’s may be passive income that’s enough to take monthly vacations.
“Different” is misleading. Different from what? That 9-to-5-er might be diverging from the norm if they grew up with unemployed parents. The passive income earner seems unusual, but they may be doing what they’ve always done if that income stream was set up by his dad and he’s had a bottomless bank account since birth.
Embrace being different by choosing your type of success regardless of (a) what you’re used to, (b) what other people have expected of you and even (c) what you’ve always expected of yourself if it’s not inspiring anymore.
P.S. The fact that you’re defining success for yourself, whatever that definition may be, is already an example of being different. Bryan Cranston, star of the greatest TV show ever (Breaking Bad, obviously) talked to the Financial Post about the riskiness of deciding to be an actor. “If that means sleeping on someone’s couch for the rest of my life, then that’s what that is.” One person’s old, lumpy couch is another person’s dream come true.
Create Your Own Rules
When Beyonce dropped her self-titled album in 2013, it was a bold move, one she was terrified of. She released the entire album without any promotion. Since she’s Beyonce, we know that it worked out for her.
If you feel like you’re different, then you’re playing by different rules than the other people you know. More likely, you’re creating your own rules. Sure, it could fail. Or it could take off and be the best decision you ever made. What it won’t be is run-of-the-mill.
Launch a guerilla marketing campaign no other business has tried before. Tell your boss you want to spearhead a new project even though you’ve only been at the company for six months. Cancel your Facebook account. Go on a meditation retreat. Become a vegan.
Question expectations so that you can uncover what you want to do and who you want to be. Bill Gates dropped out of college – not the obvious precursor to success, but it didn’t matter. Stephen Spielberg couldn’t even get accepted to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. (They apologized by dedicating a building to him.)
You don’t want to embrace ideas just because they’re different, though. Remember, you’re different because you live your life a certain way – rebelliously and bravely – not because you go, “That’s different, I’ll do that then.”
Be Your Mentor
Nobody knows you like you do, and since the other people you know can’t relate to your exotic ways, you won’t always get useful guidance from them. When it comes to business, you may have to make decisions and take chances when everybody else is telling you you’re nuts. Eventually, supporters will appear. Sam Yagan, the creator of SparkNotes, told the Financial Post, “Now all high school and college students love it, but at the time it was a crazy idea to turn down a job to go start an Internet company.”
Want more inspiration about finding your way? Look up the story of Sylvester Stallone when he wrote Rocky. You’re welcome.
Get Used to Being Judged
Everyone in my life has said some version of, “Are you going to get a real job?” It’s obnoxious, but it’s also par for the course. And it’s not personal.
People don’t (always) judge others for being different because they dislike them or disagree with what they’re doing. The judgment can come out of misguided assumptions, fear, jealousy, even experience. Most people who say that to me hate writing, so they can’t imagine doing it every day.
When you’re confident in your decisions, it’s a lot easier to respond to judgment without feeling offended.
Teach Other People About Being Different
This is my favorite way to cash in on your unorthodox traits. You’re skilled at being different, which means you have in-depth knowledge about something that’s unique and that other people want to learn – you’re not the only person in the world who has those interests or skills. Package your experience and sell it. Become a coach, create a course, set up a membership site where other oddities can gather, book speaking gigs, etc.
Find Your Tribe
You’re different, but you’re not an alien. Other people have the same idiosyncrasies. Find them.
This will be hard. They’re not living next door (probably). If they were already at your school or workplace or in your circle of friends, you wouldn’t be feeling different than everybody else.
They are out there, though. They may be online in a LinkedIn group, gathering for a wilderness retreat, heading to a book reading at the library, supporting one another’s workout videos on Instagram, listening to the same podcast…but they’re somewhere.
Take Care of Yourself
Nothing kills your mojo quicker than feeling like garbage. Being different means you have to provide your own support. When you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, nauseous from too much sugar, angry at yourself for skipping your run, etc. it’s hard to buoy yourself and appreciate your individuality.
“I love my job as a freelance illustrator,” becomes, “Why can’t I just work a normal schedule and collect a paycheck and forget about it?”
“Living alone makes me feel independent and always at peace,” becomes, “I knew I should’ve married that person I broke up with five years ago because they could bring me chicken soup right now.”
If your differences make your life harder – you’re working too many hours, trying to do too much on your own, setting an unrealistic number of goals at once – leading a more normal life will sound oh-so-appealing. That’s your stress talking, though, and you can change the inner dialogue by feeling more like your together, healthy self.
It takes a lot of resolve to continue being you in a world that’s made for people with other ideas, goals and priorities. Not taking chances is the biggest risk of all, though. The world is constantly changing. Today’s “different” is tomorrow’s “edgy” (and next year’s “outdated”). If you don’t find a way to make your differences work for you now, you could miss out on the opportunity – and the big fat check you can cash.