Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Does It Really Pay To Be Different?

Growing up we all heard the same old cliches about celebrating our differences and being a unique individual:

"Dare to be different!"

"Normal people are boring."

"Just be yourself, regardless of what people think about you."

You've probably heard these so many times that the words have lost all meaning, although they occasionally remind us to make that extra effort to do something that makes us different than the norm. Nobody wants to consider themself a cookie-cutter copy cat; we want to be unique, different, revolutionary people, and not normal, average, boring people. But the question still remains: Is it really better to be different over being normal?

Consider the simple definitions (from

NORMAL: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

DIFFERENT: differing from all others; unusual.

Normal people conform to standards, that's what makes them normal. Their personalities, ideoligies, political views, hobbies, activities, careers, opinions, fashions all conform to standards. By conforming to a certain standard, normal people find themselves in a crowded boat with many other people that have the similar personalities, ideologies, political views, etc. As you would expect of normal people, they are one of many. Picture your typical business executive, with fine clothing, drives a Mercedes, has a big house, plays golf, watches sports. Or consider your typical computer geek, with jeans & a T-shirt, is pale and out of shape, lives simply, loves tech toys, plays video games, spends lots of time on the internet, doesn't give a shit about sports.

Unique people create their own standards, that's what makes them different. They define their own personality, their own views. They choose their own activities and hobbies that are far from common. These unique people find themselves alone (for the most part) in all of these categories. Sure, some people might share similar hobbies or views, but in order to be a different person, your whole spectrum of personhood should match up with very few people. So, the computer geek is far different from the business person, but there are many computer geeks and there are many business people who meet the aformentioned profiles.

The unique people that I am speaking of are the ones who are different on all fronts and don't fit a specific profile. Picture the business executive who drives a Mercedes and has a nice house. Now picture him wearing the casual jean/T-shirt combo. Picture him playing World Of Warcraft and talking with his online friends about Why You Should Put WoW On Your Resume. This is a unique profile. Now picture the computer geek as a 6 ft. 5 in. physical specimen. Sure, he spends his job in front of a computer, but after work he spends 2 hours at the gym, and on weekends he competes in Mixed Martial Arts tournaments. There aren't too many business execs who play online computer games, and there aren't too many nerds that are professional fighters.

I still haven't answered your question. Is it better to be unique or is it better to be normal? The truth is that normal people have many advantages, the largest being the ability to more easily communicate with and relate with a larger audience. If the majority of people are in the same boat as you, then you have a lot of easy connections to make and a wide network to reach out to. Remember that normal people have standards all over, and one of these is communication standards. Their language is a common one, while a unique person defines their own language standards. I'm not saying that unique people make up their own language, but there is certainly a communication gap between these unique people. Normal people can explain themselves with references and analogies to sports. If you start making World Of Warcraft analogies to the average person, they are going to look at you like you have 3 heads. Suddenly, the way that you understand things does not match up with how others understand things.

While normal people carry the networking & communication advantage, unique people hold the ground on innovation and revolutionary ideas. They think outside of the box, because that is where they exist, it's what they know. Normal people stay in the box, and can really only follow along with ideas that are placed in front of them. Their mindset is constricted by their sociological and pshycological norms. Normal people live in a closed box, and are relatively unaware about what exists on the outsde, nor do they care.

My advice? Be unique, but remain aware of what's happening within the box of normality. If you think different, but can communicate with the normal, you'll find yourself with a great advantage over those who are just plain normal or whackily different.


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