We’re all stars in this cosmic show, right? Or perhaps stardust, especially if you’re a Carl Sagan fan.
But here’s the twist: you’re this brilliant little star, and instead of shining in your own unique way, you find yourself stuck, trying to blend in with a bunch of boring, greasy cogs in the wheel.
I mean, really? Why squish into a mold just to fit in, when you’ve got your own special shine? Why not illuminate the world with your self-luminescence instead?
Well, this illustration is my rather embarrassing attempt to depict the idea visually. Now, let’s dive into this quest of being yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else.
We humans are wired to be social beings. We have this natural desire to fit in. We feel comfortable in familiar environments, and conforming to social norms often appears to be the path of least resistance, offering a sense of security and acceptance. We all try to find our place in the social puzzle, seeking acceptance and a sense of belonging.
However, while fitting in can provide some sense of belonging, it comes at a hefty, hidden cost. Excessive conformity can stifle our creativity, suppress our individuality, and ultimately lead to unfulfilled potential and a life lived in the shadows of our true selves. It’s like trying to force a vibrant rainbow into a monochrome box – the colors inevitably get muted, and the vibrancy fades away. Many good writers, artists, poets cannot give enough time to the craft they love, because they spend way too much time on their jobs. Just being cogs in the wheel to pay their bills. While organizations may tout the efficiency of Adam Smith’s “cog-in-the-wheel” approach, it can severely constrict some individuals. (See What makes us feel good about our work? and Rethinking efficiency if you’re intrigued.)
Embracing your unique shine
In a world where fitting in seems like the usual thing, embracing what makes you unique isn’t just a cool idea – it’s like having a superpower that can lead you to grow personally and professionally. Consider the people close to you – your siblings, your friends. Aren’t you distinctly different from them? There is a reason why you are who you are – you’re a unique blend of your own personality traits, diverse interests, and aspirations.
Embracing uniqueness is about tapping into your authentic self, your strengths, and the qualities that make you stand out in a crowd. For instance, I have a techie friend who’s also a music lover. Earlier this year, he created an AI tool to generate personalized Spotify playlists based on user instructions. Within a few months, he amassed over 10,000 users and eventually sold the tool for a substantial sum. He not only found personal fulfillment but also carved out a niche for himself. That’s the secret – your quirks and individuality can be your greatest assets.
Now, let’s talk about the fear of standing out. It’s that nagging voice in your head whispering, “What if people don’t get it? What if they judge me?” I’ve been there, and what I’ve learned is twofold – people will always have something to say, and the time will pass anyway. Do you want to look back and regret not taking a chance? By being true to who you are, you not only inspire others to do the same but also create a space where innovation and authentic connections flourish. So, let your uniqueness shine – you’ll be happy, not just fine!
My Story: From Cubicledom to freedom
If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know — I’m what they call a multipotentialite (not to be confused with a polymath). Beyond coding, I find joy in exploring diverse interests. During my sabbatical in 2014, this insight struck me – I’m more than a coder in a cubicle. It was time to let the other facets of me bloom instead of withering away. And guess what? Work hasn’t been the same since. Allow me to elaborate.
I yearned for unhurried moments to actively pursue my diverse interests. Occasionally, luck smiled upon me, and I found some exciting roles with a time commitment of just 2 to 3 days a week. Of course, those roles came with a substantial reduction in my income, but I was fine with that. The real challenge, however, was convincing folks to let me contribute in a fractional role. They wanted me but insisted on a full-time commitment. It was difficult to assure that part-time work can have wholehearted involvement as well. Some even wondered if I had secret side gigs. Explaining that my other pursuits were passion, not profit, proved futile. Anyway. I did succumb to a full-time assignment once, and it swallowed my schedule entirely for nearly 2 years. Lesson learned!
My work has transformed radically. Titles don’t interest me; I gravitate toward work that aligns better with my purpose, making me not just more productive but genuinely happy. When I sense my contributions lack meaningful impact, I gracefully bow out. I’ve also accepted that enjoying my leisurely pursuits might mean leaving some money on the table, and that’s perfectly fine. Now, if only I could convince those CxOs… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sure, I may not be a star, but I won’t settle for being just another cog in the wheel. I try to keep the fire within burning, for that’s where the glow emanates.
Often, shine comes from the effort to keep that glow alive! ✨
A star amidst the greasy cogs in the wheel
Here is a short animated film (~1 minute) created by my 14-year-old, inspired by this very concept. He dedicated a significant chunk of his Diwali vacation to bring this film to life.
Take a minute to enjoy it and share your thoughts right here. Your comments mean a lot to him, and he’s eager to hear what you think of his creation. 🙂
The featured image as well as other images used in this article are created by me using DALL.E and Canva. It would be great to know what you think of them.