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Going against the flow

It takes courage to tread upstream, buck the system, or go against the flow. Witnessing a maverick defying insurmountable odds and coming out victorious are scenarios we often applaud. These paths may not necessarily have been their preferred courses of action, unless they planned on literally paddling upstream, but they were seemingly undefeatable barriers to overcome and unusual means for solving unique problems. The objective, however, wasn’t to be different, but thinking differently helped them find the solution.

There are hundreds of inspirational sayings inviting us to find our passions, all but demanding us to explore our dreams, and imploring us to be different. But is simply being different the reason why we buck the system or go against the flow? Is it success to say we stood out from the rest by being the proverbial “sore thumb?”

The conformist

During my formative years, I did my best to “tow the line.” When it came to obeying the rules, few could brag they followed them as closely as I. Although there were times when I got into some trouble, I tried my best never to “color outside of the lines.” Most teenagers go through a rebellious stage, but this wasn’t even a consideration for me. No one forced this on me nor were my parents strict beyond measure, it was simply the way my younger self chose to be.

Consequently, I adhered to everything from instructions to recipes. I rarely questioned authority and figured they had no reason to mislead me. Although it created an obedient young man, it also made me naïve and gullible.

I’ve known people who began with a similar mindset but during their teens, renounced any notion to listen to anyone. Thankfully, my path took a slightly different direction. Having no real rebellious stage during my teens, my adult way of rebellion is to play devil’s advocate. If someone says to me, “The only way to do this is to…” the first thought running through my head is to think of other ways it can be done.

By no means is this a defense mechanism or a rebellious ploy. It’s what has taught me to think for myself and protected me from continuing to be gullible. It has allowed me to be more objective and become open to more than what my prior limited beliefs tethered me to. Most importantly, it has provided a means for developing unique perspectives and transcribing those thoughts and sentiments into my writing.

Defying orders

In May of 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven gave a highly regarded commencement speech which currently, has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube. The most famous part stands out for its simplicity. “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” The Admiral goes on to explain his reasons which all are quite compelling. The now-retired Admiral McRaven without a doubt has been a prime example of self-discipline, accomplishment, and certainly has made his bed tens of thousands of times.

Coincidentally, a couple years ago, an incredibly good friend of mine, Nicole Tiffany Cruz, made a video in stark contrast suggesting we not worry about making our bed first thing in the morning.

“I understand what he’s talking about is discipline,” Nicole states, “but maybe there is something more important a mom can spend those 2 minutes doing to make her day more enjoyable and productive.”

Nicole, who is the “Super Busy Mommy Coach,” works with women and mothers whose schedules leave them little, if any, time for themselves. She instructs them on ways of combining their workouts in their daily activities and teaches them how to remain active and healthy. Her video was not simply done for a shock factor or to be rebellious, it was her unique perspective on what would benefit her clients and not simply disobey the orders of a highly decorated Admiral.

For Difference’s sake

One of the most beloved poems in the English language is “The road not taken” by Robert Frost. Comprised of only 4 stanzas, the final sentence reads:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I –

I took the road less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

As much as this poem seems to compel us to go against the norm and not follow the masses, I still recall, after nearly 50 years, my high school literature teacher reminding the class the author never distinguished whether that difference was a good or a bad thing.

There are countless ways individuals can be different and at times, I wonder why anyone would want to put themselves in a strange light. However, if I want to practice what I preach, that thought should also remind me to be empathetic and have a different understanding about them.

Being different for ourselves will always conjure up judgmental thoughts and critical words from onlookers. But when we are different by standing up for others, it becomes an act of bravery, courage, and a show of integrity. It is a nobler cause especially when we go against the norm to rise and support those who are disadvantaged and used to being discarded. There is rarely any question that our being different for the protection of others was being better.

We find our individuality and discover our uniqueness in being different. But that doesn’t give us carte blanche to seize every opportunity no matter how many toes we step on or whose rights we trample. If we insist it is our right to be different, that also means we must suffer the consequences if we have done something malicious, dishonest, or unlawful.

It’s in our approach to being different which sets us apart. Being a rebel and playing devil’s advocate was a model which worked well for me. Be different by finding your own way of innovation by taking a unique approach to being different.

My thanks to Jérôme Prax on Unsplash for the wonderful photograph and I look forward to your comments.

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