Be Yourself! But Make Sure You Fit In

“Be yourself! But make sure you fit in” is a quote from none other than (yep, you’ve guessed it) One Tree Hill; used in the show to highlight the issue of high school kids and their need to “fit in”.

It never ceases to amaze me how thought provoking a simple phrase can be….

“The media have a huge impact on how we see the world, on our socialisation, development, opinions, values, and knowledge. It is easy to become overwhelmed by information and messages we receive through the media. The media can affect us even though we often don’t even realise it is happening.” (Excerpt from: Women’s & Children’s Health Network website).

The media can also influence the way in which we view and feel about ourselves and our abilities.

(Image from http://www.battlefront.co.uk)

(Image from Style Watch: People Magazine)

I’ve seen a lot of coverage recently about the apparent desire (particularly among young women) to conform to certain expectations and stereotypes; to be seen to be doing the “in thing” whether this is looking a certain way, following the latest trend or craze or something as simple as saying what we think people want to hear.

(Image taken from Comments20.com)

Do we “conform” because we think it will make our lives better? Is it easier to follow the crowd rather than standing up, speaking out and being proud of our individuality?

Or is it driven by something else entirely?

Are we afraid that “being different” will be seen as nothing more than “putting your head above the parapet” or labelled as trouble-making?

I’m surprised to find a number of blogs and articles which examine this idea from a business and work context; which is where I’m going to focus this post.

In a working context are we more likely to stand up for what we believe in; and stand out from the crowd or do we shy away and keep our heads down for fear that being seen to be different will ultimately be career limiting?

(Image from http://www.dilbert.com)

Maybe it’s just my perception but I’m getting the feeling that being different or challenging accepted way(s) of thinking particularly at work is viewed as a bad thing, but if no one has any new ideas how are companies going to change, grow or evolve?

I work for a large, complex and sometimes there are conflicting issues and agendas; hardly surprising in an organisation with over 100,000 employees working in different countries, different time-zones, different lines of business and functions; and whilst it is true that there are some aspects of our working lives in which we are expected to conform to expectations (ethical guidelines, security policies etc), in my experience we are encouraged to speak up, challenge accepted thinking and bring new ideas to the table.

Personally, I feel that my individuality is one of the biggest assets I have to offer an employer; it is what sets me apart from others and helps me to stand out (hopefully for the right reasons). I’ve always been encouraged to have think for myself and not allow myself to be led and to share my views even if they differ from the majority; but I have learned (sometimes the hard way) to structure my views in a constructive, balanced and non-threatening way. After all just because something works for me, doesn’t mean that it will work for you. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

Anyone who knows me would probably agree that I’m not exactly backwards in coming forward with my opinions; maybe it’s just me but I don’t see that as a bad thing provided I recognise how to harness those opinions and express them at the right time and in the right way.

One of my mentors gave me the following advice (and it’s proven to be spot on): When speaking out always “Apply the newspaper headline test”.

In other words: if something I said (or wrote) ended up on the front page of a newspaper, could I justify it; to my family, my friends, my employer, or a judge?

If my answer is no, then I’ve found a think-before-I-speak approach seems to work well; it gives me the opportunity to analyse my thoughts or re-frame them. This is not easy for me, by nature I’m not the type of person who can keep quiet (especially if I’m passionate about something) just to conform to others’ expectations of me.

Going back to work for a moment; I have found where I work that people are busy, but everyone I’ve worked with seems to have a genuine desire for helping others – without exception. We have a company culture which supports personal and professional development coupled with an appetite for new ideas and in my view that can only be a good thing. So why is there still so much coverage (media and otherwise) which suggests we need to conform to norm; whatever that may be?

Ayn Rand once said:

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swaps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists. It is real. It is possible………. It is yours.”

So in a world where we can be anything we want, why do we still feel the need to fit in?

2 thoughts on “Be Yourself! But Make Sure You Fit In

  1. I love this.
    So many companies overlook the value of the dissenting viewpoint because they think unanimity signals strength (of individuals, of committees, of ideas). How wrong that thinking can be. You are fortunate to work in an environment that encourages self-expression — it sounds like you realize that!

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