Be Yourself - everyone else is taken

Embrace that which makes you different, and use positive deviance as a means to showcase your full potential.

Everyone has individual qualities and life experiences that make them unique and separate them from the crowd. And yet, we often find ourselves tempering our differences in order to fit in…..

Any quality that makes someone different can become an advantage.

Whether it’s how you dress, your age, your ethnicity, your opinions, your piercings, the length or color of your hair, your gender, your passion, your tattoos, your perspective, or your upbringing -the things that make you different can set you apart and make you better. Your uniqueness allows you to relate to people more broadly, learn to be comfortable in your own skin, and to differentiate and distinguish yourself in a world crowded with monotony. But first, you must embrace it.

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else” - Judy Garland

The most successful folks in today’s competitive landscape are often the ones that celebrate, showcase and develop that which makes them different. They succeed because of their individuality, and give back to others as a result of their exploration into their own uniqueness. In fact, what sets them apart often uniquely qualifies them to achieve their goals.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." – George Bernard Shaw

Think back to your days in high school.

In that stage of life, a common synonym for “different” could be “weird”. “Unique” might equate to “loser.”

As we grow older, “weird” can become “innovative”, “unique” may become “creative.” “Different” can evolve into “artistic”, “interesting”, “passionate”, “powerful” or even “revolutionary”…

This metamorphosis isn’t just a result of changing perceptions, but is based on how you nurture the traits, opinions, and activities that shape your individuality. Only you can control how your unique being is perceived and how you might use your individuality for your own benefit.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” – The Lorax

Don’t be shy about your eccentricity! Embrace it -- and let it to lead you to greatness!

If you are a manager, don’t discount or overlook the unique traits of people on your team. While an assembly line strives for consistency, standardization, and repeatability, today’s jobs - knowledge work, service work, and creative work - flourish when there is a high degree of individuality, uniqueness and creative tension.

As Darwin discovered, differentiation is how humans move forward. Positive deviants - people whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers – run the world – their differences advance them through life at an unparalleled pace.

History is full of examples of folks who have become mega successful because of their ability to hone that which made them different. Salvador Dali, Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, Adam Yauch – MCA - of the Beastie Boys, (who passed as we were writing this), Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, and Albert Einstein are just a few that come to mind. Dali once said, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure - that of being Salvador Dali.” Lincoln said, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” Those who rise to greatness embrace and celebrate their individuality. MCA said, “I don't really care if somebody makes fun of me. I'm not afraid of what people might think.”

Let’s take the slightly lesser known case of NBA player Dennis Rodman for example….

How Dennis Rodman made “different” into “better” twice…

Dennis Rodman is a Hall of Fame NBA basketball player. His career provides a wealth of examples and lessons in how to turn individuality in to competitive advantage. After flunking out of community college and enduring a troubled upbringing involving drugs, a torn family, and a suicide attempt - he landed at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

He was a struggling kid, with a lot to prove. He was weird. He was different. If there was one thing he wasn’t - it was “better” - than anyone. He felt he was not better at anything. Not even basketball.
But that soon changed. Not only did he use his troubled past as motivation to succeed, he went a step further and continued to seek out opportunities to use his physical features that were often mocked, as competitive advantages on the court, and his personality - which was also mocked - to differentiate off the court.

Although Dennis did well at SOSU, he would not have been a Hall of Fame NBA player without focusing on his differentiating characteristics. He had a natural talent that he spent hours of practice time to perfect - to be able to judge where the ball would land after hitting the rim. The ability to judge a rebound location is not something that coaches can teach, but Dennis saw his unique skill as an opportunity. When everyone else was shooting free throws, he was practicing how to rebound. He was working to perfect a unique skill - not trying to fit in with others. Dennis eventually became the 27th overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft because he could rebound so well and because of his constant hustle on defense.

Rodman didn’t stop there; he embraced his off the court differences as well. In fact, he built and maintained a mega-celebrity career through “being different”.

From the NBA to global corporations, being “better” starts with being “different”. It’s those that can find and embrace the experiences and qualities that make them unique that know the true meaning of success.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting” – E.E. Cummings

Look around at the world’s leaders – in industry, sports, entertainment, politics, even your own organization – those who soar the highest are different.
And so are you.

Be yourself – everyone else is taken.

Some quick questions to ask yourself to get your ideas flowing…

Stay tuned for Part II - “Rewarding Positive Deviance” where we hope to explore some things that organizations and managers can do to help acknowledge these differences and create a culture where positive deviants can thrive…  



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: