My entire life I haven’t really fit into the norms as defined by society and for a long time I really tried hard to fit in. Now I’ve finally come to the realization why it can be better to be different and I’ll share reasons why.
Societal Norms Encourage Us to Follow A Certain Path
Whether our parents encouraged us to follow a certain path or whether it is from societal pressures a lot of us are encouraged to conform to norms to be successful. It looks something like this:
- Get good grades in school, join sports and activities, and go to a good college
- Study a “good” major such as Economics, Accounting, Engineering, Computer Science, Law, Doctor, etc.
- Get a “good” job: fortune 500 company, top consulting firm, law firm, etc.
- Work hard
- Buy a house, marry, and start a family
Women Have Another Set of Expectations
As a female growing up in Southern California and now living in Northern California there are also a certain set of expectations to look a certain way and to put others needs before your needs. I followed these norms for a long time and still do to some extent but I’ve realized it’s okay to be bold and different.
In high school I was always trying to be skinnier, smarter, taller, or look more like everyone else (not mixed race). No matter how much I tried I was always different from everyone else. We should not worry so much about what society defines as beautiful and instead be confidence in who we are and embrace our differences.
Constantly Following Expectations Can Lead to More Competition
If you always follow norms and what society expects of you it can be hard to do better than the competition. For example I went to UC Berkeley, which is considered one of the best colleges in the United States, and because there were so many other students there that were also overachievers it made it that much harder to get good grades. My major was economics and a lot of classes were graded on a curve so no matter if the entire class was overachievers some people would still get below average grades.
I still managed to get good grades but it took a lot of work and studying on the weekends to make it happen. While some competition is good, a lot of competition could be challenging. Sometimes it’s better to find your niche or perhaps a less competitive school and still reach a similar goal.
It’s Okay to Not Look Like Everyone Else, Diversity is Great
My entire life I rarely fit in exactly as expected. I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles where most everyone was white. I didn’t look like everyone else but at the time I desperately wanted to. My ethnic background is half Chinese and half White. Even though I was half white, my Chinese side always made me stand out and look different.
My Chinese mother never taught me Mandarin language as she herself wanted to fit and wanted me to fit in. I never felt like I really fit in in my adolescence but I do remember trying to fit in and wishing that my eyes were bigger or wishing I was taller or skinnier. The funny thing is now looking back I was imperfectly perfect and if I had just embraced who I was and had less hesitation it would have been amazing.
It’s human nature to wish for something we don’t have and to not be satisfied with who we are especially if we don’t look like everyone else.
When I went to college for Cal day, which is when newly entering students can visit the campus before school starts, I saw there was a club called The “Hapa” club. “Hapa-haole” is a Hawaiian word for someone of partially Pacific Islander or Asian decent and literally means “half” or “portion”. It was the first time I felt I really fit in or found people like me.
I made a lot of close friends in the amazing club and most importantly it was great to find my niche. It was the first time I realized not only was it okay to be different and to not fit in but there were benefits to looking and being different.
To this day I love being hapa and find such pride in being different and being of mixed race decent. I am able to fit in with other Asians while still fitting in with everyone else.
Being Diverse in Corporate America is also Great
The benefits of diversity are also important for Corporate America. McKinsey & Company found that in 2019 top quartile companies in terms of diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability.
Those with diverse backgrounds are more likely to bring diverse perspectives which ultimately increases the potential for increased productivity. Diversity could also lead to a broader range of skills among employees.
Some of the Most Successful People in History Were Different and Brought New Ideas to the World
Steve Job knew being different would prove successful when creating the first Apple computer in 1976. Again with creating the iphone and ipad he proved being different was better.
Oprah Winfrey is different than anybody else. Not only does she look different but in the 1990’s when her talk show was taking off she separated herself from the competition (Rikki Lake, Jerry Springer, and Montel Williams) by focusing on positive therapeutic and inspiring themes, aiming to help people find their best selves.
Lady Gaga is the definition of different. She is bold and beautiful. Lady Gaga is revolutionary in her music, fashion, and setting new trends for society as a whole. She has made it normal and acceptable to be different and even calls her fans as little monsters.
The list could go on and on that being different is essential for being super successful. If we all played it safe for our entire lives then there would be no breakthroughs in terms of science, technology, music, or business.
Control the Urge to Play it Safe, Be Bold, and Be Different
We all want to fit in and do what is right, but that can also mean being different. The next time you have the urge to play it safe and keep following the status quo, remember that we only have one life to live and we might as well make the most of it.
In my own life and career I left the Corporate world for a year to spend time with my family and at the time I was nervous if it was the right decision. But I ended up getting promoted when I returned to work by starting a new job as a Senior Manager. Then the company ended up getting acquired which also helped our finances as the stock compensation I had was accelerated. Had I played it safe then I may not have been promoted or been at a company that was acquired.
Another time I was bold was by switching professions from Finance into Market Access and then to Marketing for a few years. At the time it was scary and I wasn’t sure if making such big career turns was the right decision. While I ended up going back into finance I still learned so much about business and made incredible connections and am so thankful for the experience.
Research and Make Wise Decisions Even if It Means Not Following the Status Quo
For many years in my twenties and part of my thirties I played it safe by working hard at work and putting in long hours without prioritizing my personal finances. I rarely prioritized time for investing my finances and thought that working hard and following the status quo would automatically pay off.
While working hard is a component to being successful it is also important to prioritize researching your finances. Little did I know that I had to actively research and take charge of my finances.
In my twenties rarely were there other women that looked like me that regularly had conversations about finances. So I followed the cultural norms and continued to work hard and be the generous, selfless, soft spoken woman that society trained me to be. By doing what I thought was right I actually missed out on many years of investment gains.
Thankfully in my thirties I learned that it’s okay to be different and to talk about money and make investments. In fact that is an important component to secure my financial future. I want to make sure others realize much earlier that being different is welcome in so many ways in our life.
Being Different At Work and Speaking Up with New Ideas and Processes is Smart
Sometimes it is easiest to stay quiet in meetings and not rock the boat or engage in debate. But if everyone kept doing the same processes over and over there would be no improvement. While it can sometimes be uncomfortable to speak up and share your new ideas, if you really want to make an impact then it is important to share your ideas.
It’s important to be consistent and to know when to and when to not speak up. If you speak up too little then you will go unnoticed and if you speak up too much you open yourself up to criticism.
Reasons to speak up at work include:
- Challenges the status quo and cultivates the organization
- Inspires those that don’t have a voice
- Increases their market value and relevancy
- Provides leadership and earns trust
Source: Forbes.com 6 reasons employees must speak up to thrive at work
A lot of us spend a lot of our life trying to do what we think society wants us to. Especially women are encouraged to look and act a certain way. Not until we realize that it is okay to be different and not follow the status quo can we really find our true selves.
- It’s okay to not look like everyone else, diversity is great
- Being diverse in Corporate America is also great
- So many of the most successful people in history were different and brought new ideas to the world
- Control the urge to play it safe, be bold, and be different
- Research and make wise decisions even if it means not following the status quo
- Being different at work and speaking up with new ideas and processes is smart
I hope that this inspires you to be bold and do what you’ve always wanted to do in life and in your career.
What has your experience been? Have you followed the status quo or have you been bold and different? I’d love to hear about your experiences.