There are scores of people and groups out there who are more than willing to describe for you to a well-crossed T how you’re to act/look/think in any given situation or setting. Perhaps they’ve been there since you were a wee lad or lass, encouraging — and sometimes forcing — you to fit in to a given mold.
Think of all the books, scoldings, fringe religious zealots, co-workers, employees, school systems, etc, who took (and take) great pains to establish for you (or others) exactly — and often it really is a precise thing — who or what or how you’re supposed to be, whereas we’d say we want people to just…be.
It can be overwhelming. And paralyzing. And terrifying. When we feel the tug to step outside what’s expected of us, we can feel befuddled, bamboozled, baffled, and bewildered, especially if we’re berated for doing so. What becomes painfully obvious is that we’re really good at clinging to the way things are, and we’re often fiercely loyal to the way we’ve always done things around here.
But back to those folks — many of them well-intentioned — who will give you those subtle reminders that you need to be or look or talk like or believe a certain thing or things.
“This is what a corporate cog…er…individual looks like.”
“This is what an executive looks like.”
“This is what a [insert your follower-of-a-given-religion here] looks like.”
“This is what an affluent kid looks like.”
And so it goes.
But if you fit in too much, you won’t do anything. Think of people who do or have done things in any sphere. Amazing things that made or are making a real difference to different groups of folks. History is full of such people (Jesus of Nazareth, Ghandi, MLK, Michael Jordan, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Churchill, Richard Branson, etc).
Rarely do they “fit” anywhere. They do great things precisely because they’re willing to challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the box (though I still loathe that expression), innovate, and be, well, different. Isn’t that the very essence of the word extraordinary? Something outside the ordinary?
What groups, churches, organizations, and communities need is just those people, but sadly (though not unpredictably) they’re largely missing. As leaders, we’ve got to create environments where people can explore who they are and become the person they’re meant to be.