From early adolescence we begin to ask the question, Where do I fit in?
First it’s fitting in with the right crowd at school, having the right clothes, and generally doing our best to look cool. Then it’s about going to the right schools, getting the right job or career, and doing whatever else is expected in your particular role.
Worry – worry – worry… what if I seem different?
In today’s blog post we’re going to explore this all too human obsession to be like everyone else.
It might be easier to dismiss our obsessive behaviors of attempting to fit in if we left those habits in our adolescent years. But unfortunately, we do not! On into our twenties and thirties anxiety continues to plague us about living in the right neighborhood, having the right friends, and driving the right model popular car.
All of which begs this question that each of us will ask, Just where do I fit in. Where do I sit at the Table of Humanity?
From my perspective, this question has two separate components.
1. Our Role as Part of Humanity
We live in a world of many others and this is just something we have to accept. John Maxwell suggested our necessary perspective when he said, “With one minor exception, the world is made up of other people!”
Part of our maturing process is to realize the necessary dependence we all have upon each other.
Humans have recognized this truth since the earliest days of civilization, which directly led to our expansion from extended family units, to tribes, to settlements and eventually cities and nations. Different people have different strengths, and the realization of this has led to cooperation and encouraged individual specialization.
In my book titled A Guide to Living Successfully I discuss the ingrained psychological factors that drive the obligations we have toward others of our kind. This concept of reciprocity is vital for successful human interactions, and within that section I quote Richard Leakey the noted paleoanthropologist, who said,
We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and skills in an honored network of obligation. – Richard Leakey
Humans are “hard-wired” to be amongst others of our kind. And without such interactions, we are significantly diminished. (Think what a child would be like who was raised in total isolation.)
Logically, this leads us to conclude that there can be no such thing as a “self-made” man or woman. Despite what we may wish to claim, we owe our success – both directly and indirectly – to many others who have had and who continue to have an impact on our life.
This is true of positive AND negative experiences, for both of which we should be grateful.
Therefore, other people are absolutely vital to our growth and development as they help us define our unique position within the matrix of society.
2. Who in the World Am I?
The second component to this question of where do I fit in is yet another question! “Who am I?”
I cannot find my position in the puzzle of life until I completely understand those things that set me apart from the rest of the seething mass of humanity.
While this topic has been one of philosophical debate for hundreds if not thousands of years, we at NSR Development preach the sanctity of the individual. Here we believe that every person was designed and created for greatness through the realization of their unique and individual potential.
Yet, in today’s impersonal world that individual sanctity seems to be eroding; especially when our significance is constantly being reduced to just another account number, user name, or PIN.
The argument goes something like this.
I know I am one of more than seven billion people currently living on a small rock whirling through an apparently infinite expanse of space.
I know that within the last 50,000 years, 108 billion other Homo sapiens – give or take a few hundred million – have lived here too! More than 90% of these well before my own time.
And lastly, I know that considerably less than 1% of these 108 billion people will ever be remembered as individuals who did something significant with their life!
No wonder children today seem apathetic.
Yet despite this overwhelmingly depressive picture, there are also some other facts I know.
Science today tells us unequivocally that every last one of these 108 billion souls was a completely unique individual!
No two (including you and me) have ever had exactly the same genetic makeup, or the identical environment, or identical experiences – all of which are tools that shape an individual life. Given that humans have always had a need to dream, it’s also likely that no two have ever had exactly the same interpretation of what ultimate potential is.
What a concept!
Furthermore, this means when your time on earth has expired, you cannot be replaced! There is only one of you, as there is only one of me. Does this not strongly suggest that each of us has a specific purpose in life that no one else can fulfill?
To me it certainly does!
The very fact that you are irreplaceable should instill an awesome sense of responsibility; responsibility to do something important, unique, and memorable with your life.
3. Discover Your Talents
However, to do something important, unique, and memorable with our life we must first understand the resources we posses. This begins with discovering and developing our unique Talents.
Talent is inborn in each of us, and is the result of our genetic makeup augmented by seemingly random chance.
In their book Now, Discover Your Strengths, (see reference below) Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton discuss the origins of Talent and how it is shaped and honed by Skills and Experience.
The summary is briefly this.
The human brain differs from all other organs of our body in that it is complete the instant we are born. And while other organs are growing and developing, the neonatal brain will shortly begin a voyage of regression!
Between ages 3 and 15, literally billions of synaptic connections within our brain will degenerate in apparent random fashion. (Synapses are the part of brain cells that communicate with each other to form unique neural pathways.) This accounts for truth in the saying that we are all “wired” differently.
Seemingly this is of negligible loss, given the hundreds of billions of synaptic connections that exist in us at birth.
Such degradation appears to be nature’s way of weeding out and creating room for our individual strengths (now recognizable as Talent) to survive and be reinforced by skill training and experiential learning.
For example, in most of us the neural synaptic connections and pathways that determine our ability to play the violin have long since degenerated. However, in children where they survived, other pathways – both noticeable and unnoticeable – will degenerate instead (e.g. perhaps like an aptitude for mathematics or car repair).
Noticing such an emerging talent for music, gymnastics, leadership, etc., astute parents may choose to help reinforce and strengthen this. They provide us with music lessons, send us to basketball camp, or whatever is appropriate to encourage the specific emerging talent.
Another way of looking at this is that learning Skills and the repetition of Experience is useful for anyone. However, only those with an innate Talent will ever successfully compete at the top.
4. Determine Your Legacy
And lastly, as we consider such questions as Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in?” we must not forget that our answers to these will directly impact on the Legacy we leave behind.
Legacy is that reflection of our life which determines how we are remembered. Thus, whether we realize it or not, it is something being created every day that we live!
To consciously guide our legacy, we must first understand what this word encompasses.
Legacy has three very discrete components. They are:
1. Possessions we want to pass on to others
2. People we have influenced
3. Principles we have lived and taught
POSSESSIONS are easy enough to understand as these are “things”. Things that people accumulate and then take great care to list and distribute (to bequeath) in legal instruments such as Wills and Trusts.
What may not be as obvious in what we leave behind is how the thoughts and actions of PEOPLE have changed because we were a part of their life.
My life and yours are like still ponds into which pebbles are constantly being tossed by others. The concentric ripples created continue to spread slowly outward with time until they reach the shore in every direction. Thus, everything said or done to us, whether kindly or mean-spirited, has a consequence; even though it may require decades to become visibly expressed.
Likewise, everyone is changed (even if only slightly) from their encounters with us.
Consequently, it is our choice to make interactions with people either positive or negative. And that choice will determine how we are remembered.
Thirdly, legacy encompasses the PRINCIPLES we have lived and taught to others. Have we valued and modeled integrity? Were we consistent in our dealing equally with everyone to the point that others began to emulate us? Were we known as someone others could rely on in uncertain times? These qualities we passed on to others – either consciously or unconsciously – define our character, and thus determine the memory that will remain in the minds of those who survive us.
From just this brief description it becomes evident that building a legacy to be proud of is a lifelong task. There is no time like the present to begin changing our ways to encompass those qualities we want to leave in the memory of others.
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived – that is to have succeeded. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The question that began this post was “Where Do I Fit In?”
Yet, to answer that required us to first consider the related questions “Who am I?”, and even that of “How do I want to be remembered?”
Since we all are so incredibly unique, I hope you’re beginning to realize that the question we really should be asking instead is “How can I stand out?”
Yes, we are undeniably part of an interdependent species, and it is quite easy to become lost in their vast numbers. Yet, we have seen that each of us is also a unique product of our genetics and environment. And from that comes individual talent. Talent that provides us the ability – and responsibility – to create a legacy that makes an impact on the lives of many.
This is the only way to build a life worth remembering. Understand that and you will no longer feel the pressure and worry about “fitting in.”
All of us are part of organizations that were started by outliers, by radicals, by people who cared more about making a difference than fitting in. – Seth Godin
And with those words from business philosopher Seth Godin we’ve come to the end as a full circle.
I ask you to consider your role in life. Then in the comment section below, share with us your experiences with “fitting in”… and “standing out”. Can “standing out” actually be the ultimate way of “fitting in?”
Until next time, this is Roger Koment at NSR Development…
Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton – Now, Discover Your Strengths
Seth Godin – Purple Cow
Dale Carnegie – How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
Our images today are from 123rf.com
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