No Need to be Normal
The challenge we face in education, parenting, leadership, and relationships reminds me of the character struggles of the hero in every superhero origin story. It is the hero’s journey after all. Some characters offer a variation on the theme or a different order of implementation, but each has the same elements. The hero is blessed (our version) or cursed (their view) with an extraordinary power. The hero wants desperately to be normal, but they also want to be rid of their pain. This position is reinforced by loved ones suggesting restraint and bullies calling names like “freak” and “weirdo.” The story only gets interesting when our hero embraces non-conformity even though it means being open to certain ridicule.
This same challenge lies before you. How long will you cling to the need to be normal and deny your superpowers? How long will we support bully institutions that enforce our conformity and deny our difference while they simultaneous fawn over and applaud those with status who blazed their own trail?
Teachers, bosses, and sometimes parents get caught up on conformity and standardization. This is what prompts them to counsel restraint and acquiescence. They want you to succeed in the mold of the system as they understand it. This approach seems appropriate because it has seemingly worked for many before. It is perpetuated in acceptance speeches, interviews with the successful, and stories passed down in schools, corporations, and many families. Yet, strangely, it is not the stuff of biopics and true-story movies. Keeping your head down, accepting the world as it is has never resulted in human advancement. Questioning the status quo, enduring the ridicule is always the path toward meaningful change.
My problem with Perpetuators—those who would ask you to conform—is that their request is a small-investment proposition. The person in charge can manage with minimal energy because the potential for disruption is diminished. And that is the greatest disappointment. Their need to control the situation, justified by the belief that they are keeping you safe, rationalizes a diminishes commitment to you. Because they are fearful of their loss of control, they give you less than everything in support of your uniqueness and purpose. When everyone conforms to the standard, the lack of variation ensures a predictable pattern of activity that can be controlled with minimal resources.
Another Way Exists
Another way is possible. Variation, difference, and even emergence is measurable and predictable. That is, the need for control can be sated even though the choices are exponential. Of course, this option requires more energy. Yet, the increase in energy is expended on the front end of the system. Experienced and competent managers can provide fences rather than mazes for those that they lead. This conception allows for innovation and change within specified parameters. It releases the person in charge from the requirement to micro manage each occurrence. It allows for an assessment of both process and outcome. It allows each agent within the system to perform competently and autonomously while still maintaining a formative and summative evaluation standard of performance. The opportunity is to structure institutions in this way. Even without such institutions, you can govern yourself this way and articulate your process to inform and gain permission from Perpetuators.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
- List 10 instances when you have risked or endured ridicule to promote an unpopular or innovative idea. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
- If you have fewer than 10 instances, what would be needed to support you to take more risks?
- List 5 people you can count on to support you with your ideas.
- If you have less than 5, consider ways that you can connect and develop relationships with more supporters.