You know, I have always felt like I am a misfit. Someone who feels like they are slightly off-kilter in the way they view the world. I am an individual who has intentionally traded down on my personality and persona to live a life within the boundaries set by others, a middle child in a group of 10 from the West Coast of Ireland who has been a saint, a sinner, a success and a failure in my many life journeys. These are journeys where my life, my dreams have been nightmares for me and others, but have also been times of good.
I sometimes consider myself a heretic who suppresses not only my dissent, but also my beliefs to accommodate others. Yet my edges, which are constantly scraping uncomfortably against the prison bars of whatever protocols society and business insists I must comply to, sometimes break free with fantastic and scary energy. When I review my life journey, those moments of success came when I was me, and disaster when I was the person others wanted me to be. I am a malcontent who feels like they have needlessly spent too much time trying to conform to others conventions for the past five decades as a round peg trying desperately to fit into someone else’s square hole.
I have tried and tried to be the conventional, compliant, conservative individual my environment of teachers, parents and leaders wanted me to be. Each and every time I have had periods of normality and tranquility as I bottled up my feelings and my drive. Then, suddenly the cork pops and I say or do something different, usually with disastrous consequences for my relationships, my work or those who tried to understand me. When my top does go and the fizz escapes as a crescendo of pent up frustrations, then my behaviour or actions lead me to do outrageous things without having fully considered the consequences - and wow do I then get it in the neck from others.
I remember my Uncle John, my father’s brother, or to be exact, Fr. John, a parish priest on the West Coast of Ireland and the most ornery, argumentative, combative individual you would ever meet. Maybe he was a misfit. He fitted no template I knew. As a child I always wanted to take him on, to argue with him in a challenging way and occasionally I was permitted to do so, but it usually ended in my mother - for the sake of her sanity - intervening and hustling me to bed with a rebuke about having more respect for the clergy. I could never find the balance my other siblings could and the tranquility that others found in being part of someone else’s systems of rules, hierarchical processes, controls, disciples and compliance. The friends I have, or did have, and the family connections I have lost are a direct result of the chaotic cauldron I tended to create, at moments of madness in some opinions, or bursts of inventive creation in others. Too often in hindsight the regret can be overwhelming for what I did, could have done, or should have done.
I learned early that challenging the status quo was not a quality that was valued by many, yet true misfits tend to follow their own beliefs, and are usually persecuted for it. They challenge others to see things differently. They ask why rules of bureaucracy and layers of hierarchy are necessary within the power castles that we call organisations, which end up being overtly political, incredibly bureaucratic, and full of linguistic inane jargon, with time-wasting meetings, wheel-spinning initiatives, an almost embarrassing level of hubris and total lack of innovation and creativity.
True misfits have little respect for the current status quo and view the past as a place of reference not a place of residency. You may disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them but what you cannot do is ignore them as they are the ones who change things and they are people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world. Yet that is not an excuse for poor behavior, and as we listen to our own hype we excuse and rationalize the extraordinary turbulent wake we leave and the damage we do to others.
I don’t claim to be an extraordinary misfit like Steve Jobs, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Amelia Earhart, Larry Page or Sergey Brin. These individuals made a difference. They lived lives that we can all aspire to as slightly off-center outsiders. They were all challengers of the status quo, and they never quite fit neatly into the boxes others seem to have built around themselves.
Perhaps now I understand that maybe they and other misfits are the normal ones, and it is those of us who trundle along and allow their biological obsession for personal appreciation and group cohesion to drive them to almost do anything to fit in, and who allow their views and values to be swayed so that they comply with whatever group controls they are part of, who are in fact the misfits. We also see normal people obsessing over broadcasting their status to others and who just love it when their groups reinforce the roles they have written for themselves in their brain.
From this moment forward I plan to be the person I want to be. I hope that brings with it excitement, pain, tension and learning. I also hope that it allows me to build bridges though my actions and not my words.
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart: Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens - C. G. Jung