Thought of the Day #2
What’s so great about standing out? Throughout history people who stood out were killed. Oh sure, we’ve gotten better over time. Now we just make memes and parody them on SNL.
When I was a kid, I was told I was ‘smart’. I was ‘special’. I was going to be ‘a doctor or something.’ Then my mother would check my homework every single night. I would fight. I would argue. I would say all kinds of brat-ish things like “If I am so smart, why are you checking my work? One day you won’t be able to. It’ll be too hard for you.” Translation: “What if I’m not as smart as you think?” Now let me be clear, I’m grateful for the push that I got early on in life, but that early push had some serious side effects later on.
Eventually I failed everything.
I skated through elementary school, then middle school, and all the way up to my senior year in high school. A’s and B’s went to C’s and D’s. Eventually I failed everything. I was tired of being smart. Of being special. I just wanted to fit in. Combine that with terrible study/work ethic and boom. I just gave up. I didn’t go to college. Instead, I enlisted in the Air Force.
So at the age of 18, two months after 9/11, I was stationed at the Pentagon. Where, guess what? I stood out. Michael Morris, one of the contractors in our office, took me under his wing and taught me how to code. And if I ever run into him again I owe him a lot of beers.
Fast forward 16 years later and spoiler alert, I’m not ‘a doctor or something.’ I am a 34 year old software engineer. Now you’re probably thinking “Software is the new doctor”. Let me stop you there Jay Z. It’s not. You don’t have to go to school for 8+ years to do what I do. I’m not saving lives, or changing the world. It is, however, the new blue collar job. And I love it.
We put so much pressure on children to ‘stand out’ or to ‘make an impression.’ But we very rarely stop and ask them if they want to. We assume that they don’t know. How could they? They’re kids. And even if we do ask them, they’re not stupid, they know what we want to hear. So they say it.
A different approach would be to wait until they present who they are and nurture and support that. This might not happen in some predefined time box of 5–18. Hell I’m 34 and still growing into the person I want to become. But I bet if we just wait the person that shows up will standout just fine.