You can either fit in or stand out. Not both.
— Seth Godin, Linchpin
You can tell a giraffe by its exceptionally long neck. Even in Boise.
There is a danger in having a neck that sticks out too far: you can lose your head.
We’re taught at a very early age not to stick our necks out. We’re taught not to rock the boat. We’re taught to keep our heads down and fit in. We’re taught to conform and comply. We’re taught to follow the rules and maintain the status quo.
We’re taught that our teachers need to like us, that our bosses need to approve of us, that we need to be popular. We’re graded and promoted and included by how well we fit the norm.
Vanilla is good. Ripple bad.
We are well-trained: indoctrinated, inculcated and domesticated. Drilled and practiced, as Seth Godin says, into “subservient obedience.”
For good reason: We can only get ahead, we can only succeed, if we follow instructions and color inside the lines. So they said.
Unfortunately, they lied.
Narrow mindedness may have worked in an industrial age. But in an information age, it is anathema.
Conformity and compliance with orders may be useful in the military. It may be necessary for a consistently second-rate burger at a fast food joint. Or helpful on a Detroit assembly line.
But for a remarkable life, vanilla doesn’t cut it.
We don’t need more factory workers; we need more thought leaders. We need problem solvers and visionaries. We need creatives, artists, and mavericks. Today, “it’s the art and the insight and the bravery of value creation that are rewarded,” writes Godin.
But here’s the problem (or the challenge): To level up, to break out of the mold, to move beyond the electric fences in which we’ve been trained, requires insight and imagination and initiative. It requires us to be bold and to exert effort. It requires good mentors, wise coaches, and supportive friends.
And a thick skin.
The problem with sticking out is that it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes scary. The road can be lonely. The folks we thought were friends may not like us anymore. (Resistance prefers mediocrity; resistance wants us to fit in.)
To be remarkable takes courage. And fortitude. And the ability to shed criticism and derision.
“It’s always been done that way,” we’re told.
“Why can’t you just be happy with the way things are?” goes the old refrain.
Godin writes, “The only way to succeed is to be remarkable, to be talked about.”
“Take the risk that you might make someone upset with your initiative, innovation, and insight,” he says. “Turns out you’ll probably delight them instead.”
It’s said that well behaved women rarely make history. Goes for men, too.
We have the capacity – and the obligation -to do things that matter, to live a life that matters.
It may be risky. But to be exceptional, to live a remarkable life, we must stick out like a giraffe.
Join me on the savannah?