Recently, we’ve been exploring whether those of us who don’t fit the company mould can still succeed by being themselves, including those who lead differently, like Gareth Southgate.
Today, I want to make the case for embracing what makes us different and knowing that – far from being ‘misfits’ – we actually have a ‘superpower’.
I take inspiration from a NY Times article written by one of the many women who found herself to be the ‘only’ woman – in fact the only black woman – in her team at work. The article talks about the pro’s and con’s of being the only one, and gives us tips on how to make it less lonely. It reminds us that each of us has something special to contribute and to regard our team/organisation as lucky to have that contribution.
But I want to take it one step further. I want to encourage you – if you feel different from the rest for whatever reason – gender, ethnicity, sexuality, height, cultural background, singledom, sense of humour… truly, whatever the reason – to own the characteristic that makes you feel that way and treat it like your superpower.
Think about it: some of the most well-known people – from Grace Jones to Ed Sheeran to Rebel Wilson to Mr. T – have cultivated their ‘difference’ as a strength. OK, these people are outliers. In addition to their ‘difference’, they also have oodles of talent. But that doesn’t change anything.
Can you think of someone you know who stands out in some way and yet, you hardly notice it because they are comfortable in their skin? Instead of hiding whatever peculiarity they might have, they feed it with humour, ease and comfort. Their distinguishing characteristic becomes part and parcel of who they are and lifts them above the rest. I’ve seen it with people who are overweight, people who are much shorter than average, people who are not academic and heavily-accented people. When you meet them, you might notice their distinguishing characteristic, but once you’ve had a conversation with them, you don’t see it any more. They simply become a person who is funny or witty or interesting or popular. You see them as someone who, instead of wearing their difference as a burden, wears it as a mark of distinction. What many might consider an unfortunate feature has been turned into a badge of honour.
How does this work?
It’s simple, really. When we bow to society’s pressure to conform, anything that sets us apart from the ‘norm’ makes us feel excluded. So we quietly hide it (by wearing heels if we’re short or stooping down if we’re tall), or downplay it (by mumbling through a complicated sentence or omitting references to unfamiliar yet well-known authors) or we exaggerate our behaviour (by boasting about a successful friend or buying excessive rounds of drinks). Of course, people still notice what we’re trying to de-emphasise.
When, however, we bring our ‘oddity’ to the fore and treat it like it’s the most common feature on earth, what people see is our confident personality and us – not the very thing that’s different about us. They perceive our peculiarity as our superpower – not because it is, but because we treat it like one.
Why is this important?
We live in a society that is rapidly evolving; one that needs the contribution of every individual – no matter how different. We can contribute greatly to this evolution if we are comfortable with what makes us different. Only then can we confidently talk about our authentic experiences and bring our whole selves to work. Only then will our contribution form part of those creative solutions that every organisation desperately needs. This is where the true benefit of Diversity is.
When I was young, one of my teachers told us that we must learn to love ourselves before anyone else can love us. That continues to apply today: if you respect yourself – warts and all – others will respect you in the same way.
And when that happens, the world can be your oyster indeed.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy reading The Threat of Righteousness