Why Being Different Can Make You Millions (or at Least Thousands)

Posted on March 18, 2019 by in Business | 20 comments

Why Being Different Can Make You Millions (or at Least Thousands)

When it comes to being different, we’re all the same. We’ve all felt like we don’t fit in.

In college, I went from being too traditional in art school to too artsy in business school. I ended up befriending a group of students from up the road, aspiring chefs who were the perfect mix of creative and professional-minded. Except I hated cooking. Metaphorically, I was still standing outside the window, looking in.

Not much has changed. I’m a 35-year-old freelance writer who has never pictured her wedding or felt the urge to have a family. But while I’m not surrounded by people who can relate, I have managed to be me in a world of them without becoming a hermit.

Differences are rocket fuel. They’re the innateness of you that nobody else has.

Are You Different?

Let’s clarify what “different” means. Not the dictionary version, but what it means when someone thinks of themselves as different, an M&M in a bowl of Skittles. You look un-different – you’re a human with a head and legs and stuff. That red M&M looks convincingly like a Skittle. But you feel different, you say things that other people don’t say, you have different aspirations or points of view. Maybe people treat you like you’re above them or below them or so separate from them they don’t treat you like much of anything at all.

Whether you’re different from everyone else or you’re being different from how you were brought up, something inside of you is pushing against something outside of you.

Isn’t that great? It’s great. You’ll see.

Define Your Type of Success

One person’s dream may be a 9-to-5 that pays enough to support a growing family. Another person’s may be passive income that’s enough to take monthly vacations.

“Different” is misleading. Different from what? That 9-to-5-er might be diverging from the norm if they grew up with unemployed parents. The passive income earner seems unusual, but they may be doing what they’ve always done if that income stream was set up by his dad and he’s had a bottomless bank account since birth.

Embrace being different by choosing your type of success regardless of (a) what you’re used to, (b) what other people have expected of you and even (c) what you’ve always expected of yourself if it’s not inspiring anymore.

P.S. The fact that you’re defining success for yourself, whatever that definition may be, is already an example of being different. Bryan Cranston, star of the greatest TV show ever (Breaking Bad, obviously) talked to the Financial Post about the riskiness of deciding to be an actor. “If that means sleeping on someone’s couch for the rest of my life, then that’s what that is.” One person’s old, lumpy couch is another person’s dream come true.

Create Your Own Rules

When Beyonce dropped her self-titled album in 2013, it was a bold move, one she was terrified of. She released the entire album without any promotion. Since she’s Beyonce, we know that it worked out for her.

If you feel like you’re different, then you’re playing by different rules than the other people you know. More likely, you’re creating your own rules. Sure, it could fail. Or it could take off and be the best decision you ever made. What it won’t be is run-of-the-mill.

Challenge Convention

Launch a guerilla marketing campaign no other business has tried before. Tell your boss you want to spearhead a new project even though you’ve only been at the company for six months. Cancel your Facebook account. Go on a meditation retreat. Become a vegan.

Question expectations so that you can uncover what you want to do and who you want to be. Bill Gates dropped out of college – not the obvious precursor to success, but it didn’t matter. Stephen Spielberg couldn’t even get accepted to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. (They apologized by dedicating a building to him.)

You don’t want to embrace ideas just because they’re different, though. Remember, you’re different because you live your life a certain way – rebelliously and bravely – not because you go, “That’s different, I’ll do that then.”

Be Your Mentor

Nobody knows you like you do, and since the other people you know can’t relate to your exotic ways, you won’t always get useful guidance from them. When it comes to business, you may have to make decisions and take chances when everybody else is telling you you’re nuts. Eventually, supporters will appear. Sam Yagan, the creator of SparkNotes, told the Financial Post, “Now all high school and college students love it, but at the time it was a crazy idea to turn down a job to go start an Internet company.”

Want more inspiration about finding your way? Look up the story of Sylvester Stallone when he wrote Rocky. You’re welcome.

Get Used to Being Judged

Everyone in my life has said some version of, “Are you going to get a real job?” It’s obnoxious, but it’s also par for the course. And it’s not personal.

People don’t (always) judge others for being different because they dislike them or disagree with what they’re doing. The judgment can come out of misguided assumptions, fear, jealousy, even experience. Most people who say that to me hate writing, so they can’t imagine doing it every day.

When you’re confident in your decisions, it’s a lot easier to respond to judgment without feeling offended.

Teach Other People About Being Different

This is my favorite way to cash in on your unorthodox traits. You’re skilled at being different, which means you have in-depth knowledge about something that’s unique and that other people want to learn – you’re not the only person in the world who has those interests or skills. Package your experience and sell it. Become a coach, create a course, set up a membership site where other oddities can gather, book speaking gigs, etc.

Find Your Tribe

You’re different, but you’re not an alien. Other people have the same idiosyncrasies. Find them.

This will be hard. They’re not living next door (probably). If they were already at your school or workplace or in your circle of friends, you wouldn’t be feeling different than everybody else.

They are out there, though. They may be online in a LinkedIn group, gathering for a wilderness retreat, heading to a book reading at the library, supporting one another’s workout videos on Instagram, listening to the same podcast…but they’re somewhere.

Take Care of Yourself

Nothing kills your mojo quicker than feeling like garbage. Being different means you have to provide your own support. When you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, nauseous from too much sugar, angry at yourself for skipping your run, etc. it’s hard to buoy yourself and appreciate your individuality.

I love my job as a freelance illustrator,” becomes, “Why can’t I just work a normal schedule and collect a paycheck and forget about it?”

“Living alone makes me feel independent and always at peace,” becomes, “I knew I should’ve married that person I broke up with five years ago because they could bring me chicken soup right now.”

If your differences make your life harder – you’re working too many hours, trying to do too much on your own, setting an unrealistic number of goals at once – leading a more normal life will sound oh-so-appealing. That’s your stress talking, though, and you can change the inner dialogue by feeling more like your together, healthy self.

Final Thoughts

It takes a lot of resolve to continue being you in a world that’s made for people with other ideas, goals and priorities. Not taking chances is the biggest risk of all, though. The world is constantly changing. Today’s “different” is tomorrow’s “edgy” (and next year’s “outdated”). If you don’t find a way to make your differences work for you now, you could miss out on the opportunity – and the big fat check you can cash.

Being different isn’t for the faint of heart. Here’s how to overcome insecurity and flex your confidence muscle.

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20 Comments

  1. Nice post, Lindsay. It can be hard to remember when their is so much advice out there on how we are supposed to do things, that we also need to look to our own uniqueness.

    • Yes! Totally agree! I’ve read hundreds of “Do This Like This” articles and so few of the suggestions relate just to me.

  2. Lindsey, I know exactly what you mean. I’m twice your age and have been “different” my whole life. I also am a hodgepodge mix of arts and sciences. I’m a musician – I’ve conducted large (75-to 250-piece) groups for more than 20 years. I’m a jet pilot with a commercial multi-engine license with instrument rating and nearly 3,000 hours in 4-engine jets. I’m a drawing artist, photographer, and most recently, videographer. I’m a computer programmer with more than 20 years developing applications, several for the largest companies in the world in their industry. I’m also a professional educator.

    And you know what?

    Website development is possibly the best place for someone like us to use this hodgepodge of skills, because it requires that unique blend of artistic ability and judgement and scientific logical thinking.

    I wonder how many other people are out there who would be “different like us” if they let themselves, if they followed their calling instead of the crowd?

    • Lindsay you sound like my kinda guy, always learning, growing, exploring and embracing change as a life choice.

      I too have found (at 65, we Baby Boomers rock!) my left brain / right brain has found its balance in designing web sites for like minded women, although my intention is to eventually teach online (am slowly developing & designing my own online Academy).

      Life is exciting and inspiring when you tap into who you are in your heart, and bring that out into the Light through your work. Whether it’s academic work or creative work, or as in my case, a beautiful balance of both!

      I wish you well as you go on making a difference!

      Cheers! 🥂
      Lyn
      Australia

    • Thanks so much for sharing, David! And wow, you do A LOT!!! Yes, I agree – I’m a big believer in leaning in to those differences. I wish more people would.

  3. I am in the choir!

  4. What an awesome post Lindsay!
    Just the kind of positivity people (like us? like me?) need to hear.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Sam 🙂

  5. everyone in the world like to be different but no one dare to separate their self from the queue and take lead. Really nice article read so far. Positivist feeling comes after reading such articles. Thanks for sharing such things.

  6. Really great post Lindsay – thank you!
    I am a real hodge podge too – I’m a vet, a Mum of 4, a force’s wife (who moves home and country every few years), a runner (who picks up roadside rubbish on her morning runs:) and finally a Divi web developer with a head full of ideas for my next online business to help pet owners.
    Just like David the jet pilot; experience is what gives us the ability to be different and think outside the box!
    Keep writing your wonderful articles and we’ll keep getting inspired:)

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Arielle 🙂 And keep doing a million-and-one things!

  7. words of wisdom.

  8. Fantastic post! I left the corporate world and the oh-so-sought-after ‘corner office with the view’ in 1992, and although it’s not always been easy…I have never regretted it. Monday mornings are no longer dreaded, and my commute (down the stairs, hang a left and you are at the coffee pot) is never an anxiety-ridden road rage trauma. I work the hours I want, when I want, and love what I do.

    Like David, I do many things, because I LIKE doing many things! I would never be happy pigeon-holing myself with just one skillset. I also agree that web design is a wonderful use of both the artistic and logical sides of our brains. My core business is developing custom payment platforms for e-commerce (we have clients all over the world) but I’ve built a substantial ‘side business’ creating and selling planners and journals, which satisfies that artist in me – that was never real crazy about being a ‘starving’ artist….

    And nice to meet all of you ‘different’ peeps 😉

    • Yay, that’s awesome!!! I love when somebody knows the office life isn’t for them and does something about it. I’ve found that there’s always a trade-off – I sometimes miss the mental space that comes with a morning commute, but I look at it as choosing the hard you’d prefer and going after it.

      And you’re a woman after my own heart with the journals and planners – I’m an organization nerd.

  9. Very beautifully written post. Thank you very much. We, readers, love to read articles like this.

    • Thank you so much 🙂

  10. At 65 I find myself unemployed for the first time in my professional career. Not at all interested in retirement. Some (recruiters …) tell me that I belong in the analytical sector. Others that I belong in the creative domain. I write a lot about empathy, compassion and respect as leadership qualities in the workplace. Feedback indicates that this apparently has made some people on search committees uncomfortable. Maybe because I really mean that stuff and they know it? My experience spans education, science, design and business. I have been encouraged to choose one and stick with it.

    As if that would be possible.

    And … why?

    It’s a bizarre world out there. Thank goodness I am different. I’m glad all of you are different, too. It is called unlimited human potential. Thank you.

    Don’t ever let anyone dictate your value in this world.

    • Hey William – Thanks so much for the comment. I have to wonder: is there a perfect fit out there for you that WILL appreciate your outlook on empathy, etc.? I bet there is. Today, so many businesses are getting on board with that outlook, whether by choice or force – audiences want that type of approach and smart brands are catching up.

  11. I enjoyed your article so much! I know you weren’t talking about people like my daughter, who learns differently because she has Down syndrome and had leukemia twice, totaling 6+ years of treatments. She walks differently, speaks differently, and her differences are noticed immediately because of her looks, or because she was bald for so many years.

    I believe most people may not accept others with differences because they are afraid of the unknown, afraid to ask questions, or stay quiet because they don’t want to say the wrong thing or be hurtful. In our experience, if we reach out first with a smile or “hello,” others are quick to accept us. Once they spend a few minutes with Emily, they notice other ways she’s different – she accepts and loves everyone immediately, she’s the first to give a hug or rub someone’s back if they are sad, she laughs all the time, wants everyone to dance with her, and shares her kindness with everyone, etc. She puts people at ease and she teaches them that being different can be wonderful, exciting, and very freeing.

    I encourage you all to celebrate your differences and give people the opportunity to be open and accepting. From the comments here, it seems as though everyone has made a wonderful life for yourselves. Emily’s advice would be to be brave, hug everyone, reach out and smile!

    (FYI – Emily was first diagnosed with leukemia at 3-1/2 and she is as healthy as can be at 26. She has the most beautiful long hair I’ve ever seen – but she’d rather be bald!)

    • Terri – Your comment is so close to my heart! My uncle has Down syndrome and he’s the biggest light in our family. My cousins and I grew up understanding that some people are different and that it’s not anything to be afraid of. We also know that it’s something that’s okay to ask questions about or wonder about. With David, and it sounds like with your daughter, you can’t help but fall in love with him after meeting him. Again, thanks for writing, and I’m so glad to hear Emily is healthy and happy at 26!

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