The problem with conformity
There are lots of things in our world designed to ensure conformity.
Laws and regulations to ensure we follow similar rules. Processes in workplaces to ensure we deliver things in a similar way. Education systems to ensure our kids are taught similar things. And so on.
Most are designed with good intentions. We want to keep people safe and protected from harm. Businesses have an obligation to look after their employees and keep customers happy. And a good education is important for our children’s futures.
But the desire for conformity can be overused.
People follow the career paths that are expected of them rather than the ones that are best for them. They look at the way competitors are running their businesses and think they should be doing the same thing. They are told there is something wrong with their children because they are dissimilar to others.
Do you ever find yourself lured in by unnecessary pressure to conform? Do you find yourself doing things in your career, business or life simply because others are doing them, because others expect them of you or simply because it’s the done thing?
There’s no law or regulation governing these things but expectation sets the rules.
Let’s explore how to spot when conformity may be holding you back and how to find and celebrate what’s special about you. Because, doing this is your greatest opportunity to stand out and succeed in life.
You are special
I realised just how much many of us are trained to ignore what’s special about us – from a surprisingly early age – when my children entered the education system.
I thought they were fortunate as both managed to get into a school that was rated outstanding by Ofsted, the body that regulates schools in the UK. I thought this would guarantee them a rewarding experience of education.
However, they both struggled with reading even though we read together a lot at home. I love stories and wanted to pass on this joy to them. One of our favourite things was to make up adventures of our own together and they both had brilliant ideas that took us from mountains, to deserts to space.
What I didn’t know back then was that they both had dyslexia and the school hadn’t picked it up. The school was frustrated at the pace of my children’s development in reading. They blamed both me and – worse – the children who they said weren’t focused enough. They reminded me the school was outstanding, had proven systems, excellent teachers and the majority of learners were performing well. They told me over and over again that my children were a long, long way behind the rest and would thrust charts in front of me to prove the point.
I told them about all the wonderful stories the children created when they were able to do this verbally and about all their other strengths. They are both highly creative, have great memories and have other passions. But it was all ignored. They were behind in reading and that was what mattered in their school reports because this was how the teachers themselves were being measured.
I was called in for meeting after meeting. I’d keep the children up later and later to try and fit in more and more reading, insisting we were doing our very best but – try as we might – the progress was never enough.
Then one summer’s day, having worked a full week and stayed up late to do all the extra tuition my children needed, I was hauled in once again for another meeting where I was lectured about my kids being behind target.
And, I snapped. I said, children don’t come out like pies in a pie factory, exactly the same. They are different. They are unique. They are individuals. They are originals.
And in that moment – despite being hot and sticky and tired – I suddenly had more energy than I’d ever had. I realised I had a mission to teach my kids that their differences and strengths would give them advantages longer term and to embrace the power of their originality.
You too are an original and this is your greatest strength.
The source of success
I’ve seen time and time through my work helping business leaders excel with their communication, that our strengths bridge our weaknesses and our differences help us stand out if we harness them.
As I encouraged my children to pursue their passions their way, the idea caught on. We moved schools and met some incredible teachers along their educational journey who believed in them, encouraged their enterprising spirits and celebrated their strengths. My son now pursues his passion for sport and fitness alongside his work and my daughter is on a journey to be a midwife.
As I’ve shared our story, other parents have seen the value of not forcing their children to do things simply to meet targets or expectations and encouraging them to pursue a course in life that’s a personal choice rather than an expectation.
Surely an A in Happiness is the best grade to strive for!
And, I’ve seen first hand how the greatest success comes when we do things our way.
What counts is action
Once our original choices are made, what counts is action.
You always know an Origineur when you meet them. They’re the one that not only talks about writing a book one day but does it. They set up that business. They go on that adventure. They meet that person who they’ve always wanted to meet. They take up that hobby, or craft or sport. They have ideas, they have the desire and they make things happen in their own way.
And, in doing that, they make the world a brighter place because they inspire us all.
What makes you special?
Before you can discover what truly makes you special, you first have to be aware of the things you are doing that make you conform to expectations when it’s maybe not the right thing for you.
Listen out for the word ‘should’ in your thoughts and in your speech.
I should take that job. I should be on that social media channel. I should be more like that. I should look like that. I should do what those people over there are doing.
Maybe you shouldn’t.
Let’s look at what’s special about you so you can use this insight in your choices as a guide to what you really want to do.
- First look at your values. Ask yourself: What is most important to me? What can’t I live without? If I could only have three things in my life, what would they be? How can I live my life so I can give more time to these things?
- Next consider what fills you with energy. If I were to tell you that you could take today as a free day and spend it doing whatever you wish, anywhere you desired, what would you do? What makes the time fly by?
- Thirdly, what ideas or activities have you always wanted to do that you haven’t pursued yet? Maybe it was a childhood dream or a more recent idea.
When considering these things, you may think, what’s unique about that?
Well, even if someone has similar values, likes similar activities or has similar ideas to you, they are not you.
What makes you special, what makes you original, is your unique blend of personality, skills, experiences and values. When you combine this with your vision and the action you take, your approach will be different.
No one can do things quite the way you can.
You are special and you are worth it.
Embrace your originality today!
- There are many expectations hovering over us that can make us conform when we don’t want to or when it’s not best for us. You often can spot yourself doing something that’s not your best choice when you hear yourself saying should.
- To figure out what’s special about you and what you really want to do – whether it’s a big life decision or a smaller daily decision – explore your values and what fills you with energy as well as the ideas and activities you are keen to pursue.
- What makes you original, is your unique blend of personality, skills, experiences and values. When you combine this with your vision and the action you take, your approach makes you special.