Being different isn’t different. We are all different. It is easy to be ourselves, to be different.
Trying to conform is so much harder than being different. It takes us away from what we truly are, it takes energy to conform, energy we cannot use being ourselves.
Yet for most of our working lives we are asked questions about our willingness to conform and not to be different. We have inverted what works best for us.
As there is so much pressure to conform in our working lives and so little opportunity to be different, we try to find places to work that to some extent allow us to be different. We commit in turn to align to our work’s required conformity. When this happens we say we feel “comfortable” in a role; that we share the same “values”; that we are “trusted” to succeed.
However if the conformity we have been prepared to accept changes; when our business is sold or management restructures, or even when colleagues move on, we feel undone. It can hurt us, we can crumple and if that vulnerability persists we should probably then leave in search of another compromise.
Being our difference isn’t about being maverick or solitary. Being human, of course, is about having social interaction, about doing things in family units, in friendship groups and in communities. Being different therefore isn’t about being selfish. It is about being valued in a group. Family, friends and communities are groups that value us as individuals. It is social interaction and space where we do not have to conform. We are happiest in these places because our difference is valued.
The work place is probably forty years of our lives. It is the place we spend the vast majority of our time. It gets the best years of our lives, most of the daylight hours and nearly all of our creative and social time. To be in such a place, for so long with so much conformity pressure is really difficult; but we risk conflating ideas to justify staying that are poor reasons to stay. Things like promotion, salary, bonus, status and power. However these are not the things that matter if the conformity pressure is too great. What matters is our sense of being valued for being us.
Being valued for our difference is the only reason to compromise that counts in the long term; the only reason to stay and it becomes the only reason to move to another place. We are different. Be your difference. Find a place to be your difference.
Paul Gilbert. Chief Executive LBC Wise Counsel