All through the teenage years, having spent hours sitting, practising and contemplating life in the music room of boarding school, the same question often came up, “Why do I seem so different from everyone else?” It was a feeling. Whether I was or wasn’t doesn’t really matter now, it was a feeling as a teenager.
Oddly that feeling neither passed nor or disappeared. In fact, it persisted as I grew up. And in my early twenties living overseas, again it felt like I was the odd one out, not following the ‘normal’ footsteps of siblings or friends, but making my way, quite alone, both overseas and leaving farm life to live in a big city alone. Into my thirties, it continued, this feeling both amazing me in moments of highs and terrorising me during the lows.
Funnily enough, acceptance came quite by chance. After a very arduous adventure actually.
Four of us, a combination of dear friends and acquaintances decided to raise money for charity and walk 100km. Whilst the very thought of it may seem abominable to some, I felt driven and excited by this commitment to walk this long distance in order to fulfil the task of raising money for people in need.
We trained for many months walking and talking for hours on end. It was an incredible experience discovering the bush walks and nature galore only moments from our doorstep in and around Sydney. In honesty, the training was way more fun and enjoyable than the actual event itself.
At 25km into the event, we had our first hiccup. One of our team members bowed out injured. Disappointed for her, yet determined, we kept on. Walking in into the night, donning our head-torches, we made our away along bush tracks, over boulders and across creeks. Hour after hour we kept walking. At one point I remember distinctly passing a cluster of rocks somewhere in Kuringai National Park in the black of night, thinking “I could quite easily lie down under that rock and die right here and now”.
But it wasn’t my time and digging deep, I kept on walking. At the next checkpoint in the wee hours, as darkness lifted and dawn was upon us, our next hurdle arose. Another team member injured and past the point of repair or return. So she too bowed out.
At this point, we had an issue, because as a twosome, we were technically not allowed to continue alone. We’d need to join another team. The third walking partner contemplated, pondered some more and then made her choice. Feeling the pressure both in body and mind, she too decided against continuing on.
Alone, I stood… waiting for the next team to come through the checkpoint. It was again at this point, standing tired, yet exhilarated, determined with a job still to be done. “I said I’d walk 100km and I’m still standing, fit and able. I’ll do it.” Then back came that very question “Why? Why am I so different to everyone else?” Once again, an incredible sense of loneliness and wonderment swept over me.
It wasn’t long at all before I found a new team. Co-incidentally a group we’d met out training one day and mates of my brother from school. They’d slept overnight and were powering on a completely different schedule and level of energy to me. So suddenly after nearly 80 odd kilometres under my belt, I could no longer walk. I had to run. I had to run through the bush, over boulders, jumping up rocks to keep up with this fresh and fit team. Another 10km and pain hit as my Achilles were screaming. “I can’t go on. I’m done, this hurts way … way too much”.
Fortunately, as fate would have it, one of the new team members started to hurt too and he slowed right down. Then his team had to slow right down too. The very last kilometres we pushed each other along, pulled each other up and over the rocks, making our way together to the very end of the line.
Crossing over the finish line was surreal. As was sitting in the campervan, post-event, whilst my teammates, drank champagne and celebrated the occasion. Not being much of a drinker, was yet another difference marker. Something I’d come to accept over the years, but in that very surreal moment, I again felt that vast widening of that point of difference.
It was days afterwards when the light-bulb moment came, after yet again contemplating “Why am I different? Why did I finish and not the rest of my teammates?”
After so many years of asking this question and wondering, it finally dawned on me.
Because some of us ARE simply different.
We just are.
So finally, after a lifetime of wondering and trying to come up with an explanation for it. I was ok with it. It no longer needed an explanation, blame, justification or defence.
I was and am different. You may be too.
And so I write today, to say it’s ok. Life will throw many weird and wonderful journeys at you. You may feel lonely. Yet you have you. And if fact you have many of us around you, perhaps without you realising. We are here.
And you too may wonder and have that feeling of being different. Of not fitting the mould. And you may wonder… why?
Once you accept it, relief will come.
And clarity that it is:
– Ok to stand out, to be different.
– To zig when everyone else zags
– To cross when everyone else waits.
– To sing when everyone else is silent.
– To cry when everyone else laughs.
Running your own business is another one of those times, when this feeling or question may arise. Because there is so much more ease, certainty and normality to being employed rather than being the one that employs. To be the one that follows instead of leading. To be the one that plays safer rather than taking the risks.
Yet leaders stand out for a reason. They are driven. Driven to succeed. To make it across the finish line, despite the pain. To staying focused on the objectives even when the going gets tough and the boulders get bigger.
Some are simply different. Having seen a lot of Zebra whilst travelling recently, it reminded me, I never felt like one of the horses surrounding me in country NSW as I grew up… more a Zebra, if you know what I mean.
How ’bout you?
Why blend in, when you were meant to stand out?
Genevieve “Be different” Matthews
P.S Whenever you’re ready – here are 4 ways I can help you grow your business leadership capabilities.
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