A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about conformity which has prompted me to do the same. While his post is about conformity in web design, I would like to generalize it a bit more.
Conformity is much more than most people think it is. It’s not just emo kids who all wear dark clothes. It’s not just polo shirt wearing middle managers who go home to their comfortable house in their cookie cutter housing developments. It’s not just how everyone on digg has the same political views. No, it’s about not having the ability to formulate your own opinions, lacking the ability to think freely, and being too inhibited to express those thoughts and opinions.
Everyone likes to believe they are unique. No one will ever tell you that they are a conformist, after all, conforming is always a bad thing, right? Or is it?
Society is cruel. It forces you to conform. We must all obey the same laws, shop at the same stores, live in the same cookie cutter houses, and drive the same types of cars everyone else does. We must work at a job, we must do what society allows us to do, to survive. There are exceptions to this rule of course, many people have found unique ways to provide for their families, and unique ways to live, but for those of us who have already made choices in life which have left us feeling very much “the same”, as everyone else around us, what can we do?
I think the answer is simple: Re-think what conformity actually is, and redefine it to yourself. I myself, believe I am unique, of course. Thing is, I live in a townhouse community, and I work at a 9 to 5 job in Information Technology. I wear khakis to work every day, and I shop at Old Navy. How much more “normal” could I be?
Being normal, or conforming, is not a bad thing. If you want to be totally unique then cover your entire body with tattoos and run naked through a shopping mall. If you want to be unique, paint your house bright pink. Hell, you could drive to work in a bright lime green 1948 Oldsmobile. I bet no one else in the parking lot has one of those. Would you want that kind of attention though?
My point is, uniqueness is more of a state of mind. Most people feel uniqueness is simply the ability to draw attention to yourself by looking or acting different. When I watch the news, I accept the information being told to me, and formulate an opinion based on the facts I have. When I choose who to vote for, I go with my gut. When I design a website, I design what I like, not someone else. I am opinionated. I am outspoken. I think, freely and I speak, freely. This is the key to being truly unique.
So many people strive so hard to appear unique, when they aren’t. If you are goth, emo, preppy, or a skater. You look just like your friends. If you are truly unique, on the outside, then you probably have some sort of birth defect, in which case the looks you are drawing from the people around you, aren’t the types of looks you want. Pardon my insensitivity here, but it is the truth. Have you ever taken someone out to eat sushi and had them say (looking they are about to puke): “It tastes very…unique.” Being unique, isn’t always good.
Uniqueness is inside all of us. It is a matter of expressing it. In day to day life, it is easiest and often best to just blend in and go unnoticed. Wear jeans and a t-shirt, lay off the eye shadow. When it comes time to truly express yourself, in the form of art, music, public speaking, web design, or whatever other subject it might be, be yourself. These are your opportunities. If you feel strongly about something, speak up about it. When you have a class presentation to do, don’t just stand at the front of the room and read from a sheet of paper, use these opportunities to express who you are. Sitting in the back row wearing all black, won’t help you later in life.
Be who you are, and let people know who that person is. Take opportunities to constructively express yourself, don’t waste time and energy drawing attention to yourself when you don’t need to.
An example from my real life is, firstly, as I stated above: I am about as normal as they come. On the outside. I do not waste effort and energy in my life toward trying to look unique. I wear what I want to wear, I drive what I want to drive, and I live in a house which is economical for me.
I am an IT professional, and a good analogy for me is – look at this server rack below. They all look the same don’t they? Nothing stands out about any of them in particular, just like me.
What you don’t know about these servers, though, is that they all do something different. Equally important. Each one of them has a job, a function. From the outside looking in, I look like your regular run of the mill IT guy. If you ask around the office about me, most people will tell you something very different though. I go against the grain. I speak my mind. I come up with ideas. I embrace change, and I cause change. This has helped me in my career greatly, and it is all thanks to my ability to think freely, and speak my mind. My ability to be unique.
In high school, I made some of the most memorable class presentations of all time, but every other day of the week I was just that quiet normal kid that no one paid attention to.
Work toward drawing positive attention to yourself, highlight your abilities, your uniqueness. Make it known to the world what it is that you are good at, what ideas you have which should be known about. Make an impact.
Don’t waste time with the eye shadow anymore, please.