Growing up, I knew I was different. I didn’t look like the other kids — I wasn’t short and thin. I didn’t act like them, either. Rather than run around, playing sports and other games, I would hide somewhere to read and write. I certainly didn’t think like my peers. Childhood trauma and adolescent depression pretty much guaranteed that. I struggled with my differences for a very (very) long time. But now, in my mid-thirties, I’ve learned that they’re what make me who I am. I’m not like everybody else. And that’s a good thing.
The dictionary defines the word unique as, “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.” In the most literal, biological sense, we are, of course, all unique. But in today’s cultural landscape — with trend spotters, influencers, and the like telling us how we should look, what products we should use, how to live our lives — it has become increasingly difficult to step away from the noise; to stand out.
And, you may be asking, why should I stand out? Why would I want to be different?
To live your truth
Psychiatrists explain that, since every human trait is fundamentally different, any trait can both be positive and negative depending on the circumstances.¹ We don’t want to be seen as weird. But abnormal behavior isn’t always bad, because there is no absolute definition of normal. I’m sure you’ve heard the famous line, “if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” What is your truth? What is your normal?
When you embrace who you are, you can experience freedom unlike any other. Think what you want to think, say what you want to say (within reason — living your truth shouldn’t come at the expense of others), and — above all — feel what you need to feel. Don’t let anyone else dictate you.
To explore the unknown
Being the one-and-only you has taken you places you wouldn’t have otherwise been. Celebrate that. Good and bad, joyous and tragic, everyone has had different life experiences — they make us who we are. In fact, neuroscientific studies have shown that those experiences, and our individual life circumstances, change our brains in a measurable way.² Athletes, artists, and scientists, for example, all have specific characteristics in the regions of their brains they use most often for their skilled activity.³ Even your brain is on a journey for individualism.
And that journey isn’t over. What you have lived; what you have seen, learned, and accomplished will affect and influence you going forward.
To think outside the box
The differences among us are what lead to competition and invention; creativity depends on the nonconformity of ideas, just by definition. If history’s greatest innovators hadn’t dared to think differently, we wouldn’t live in the world we do today. And, when you consider any number of these personalities — a scientist like Edison, an artist like Van Gogh — they aren’t what you would call “normal.”
This speaks to the results of a series of studies conducted by Cornell University. Three separate studies concluded that social rejection actually fuels creativity.⁴ Researchers found the experience of rejection promotes more creative problem-solving and artistic ability.⁵ So, push yourself outside that box. You never know what you’ll discover.
All this is to say: I encourage anyone to take a chance, stand out, and see where it takes you.