Why Try Hard to Fit in When You Are Born to Stand Out

By | February 18, 2010

I had a message on my desk the plant manager wanted to see me. As a newly promoted fresh-faced department head I hadn’t been jaded to the fact I was wanted in the plant manager’s office. To my eagerness this was an opportunity for face time. To shine. To please my boss.

He asks me to close the door and have a seat. The tone was stern and unemotional. His first question to me was, “Russell do you want to be a success in this business?” Of course! There was never a doubt. How could he question this? I answered immediately, “I’ll do what ever it takes to be the best manager I can be.” He smiled, sat forward in his seat and said, “I knew you’d see it my way.”

He continued, “The first thing you need to do is get rid of the boots.  (There were plain black not the red ones) I don’t care how polished you keep them and how nice they are, they’ll always be sh*tkickers in my book and no one in management in this company wears those things to work. Second, you have a personalized license tag on your car and your car is a Cadillac. That just won’t fly here. No one needs to be calling attention to themselves with anything other than a regular license plate and let your wife drive the caddy and you get a pick up or smaller car – like mine.

Now, what’s this I hear you have a solid gold monogrammed chewing gum case?” I laughed at that and showed him the brass gum case my wife found in a newspaper supplement for 88 cents. I tell him it keeps my gum from getting wet in my pocket and… He cuts me off in mid-sentence and tells me to get rid of it and that is all he had to say and I am excused.

When I get back to my office I am a different person than the one that left there fifteen minutes ago. I’m stunned. My success is predicated on my footwear? For the next two years I tried to fit in. I complied with all the requests except the car – and I quit being who I really was.

Finally, I took a stand when I was asked to “quit being me” when it came to an ethics issue. Enough was enough. After ten years with the company I walked away and the biggest mistake I made in my career happened the day I quit being me and tried to be what someone wanted me to be.

1. Be who you are and find the right fit

Have you ever been forced into a mold you didn’t really fit? How did it make you feel? How much did it carry over to your personal life? How did it impact your self respect and confidence? How fast did you want to get out of that situation?I see many people wedging themselves into jobs they fit into about as well as I would into a Speedo.

Why do you do this? For the paycheck? For the sake of your careers? To get ahead? If you aren’t being true to yourself you are being a fraud and deep down inside your spirit knows it. You hear it in your mind no matter how hard you try to ignore that inner voice. Have you ever laid off a worker and knew the reason this worker was being laid off was because the president of the company was making bad decisions and the worker just happened to be an employee someone thought expendable? How did that make you feel? How many times have you taken actions at work under the title of “That’s just business” and felt a bit guilty about it later? These are all signs of how we are compromising ourselves as managers, and not being leaders as a result. If you find yourself making more and more decisions deep inside you don’t feel right about, then you are being given direction to find a better fit.

2. Hold Your Ground

In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted a now-famous laboratory experiment in order to study obedience. After recruiting male volunteers, he set up a task in which someone called a “teacher” would administer electric shocks to a “learner” in order, ostensibly, to help them learn a list of words. When a “learner” missed a word, the “teacher” would administer an electric shock. An experimenter was in the booth with the “teacher,” and would encourage the “teacher” to push the volt-delivering button when the “teacher” expressed reluctance.

In fact, the experimenters would tell the “teachers” that they had no choice but to deliver the shocks. In Milgram’s experiment, no shocks were actually delivered. The “learners” hidden from sight from the “teachers” were confederates of the experimenter. But the “teachers” thought that they were delivering shocks. And more than 65 % of the teachers were willing to administer the maximum voltage to the point of death, in spite of the cries of pain and screams for mercy. I’m sure you are thinking I’d never do that.


Middle managers are being asked to do a lot of dirty work they don’t agree with and doesn’t benefit the greater good. As demonstrated in the Milgram experiments we will do things against our better judgment in order to please. Any idea how many times do we do exactly that in the workplace? We use excuses to justify our decisions to ourselves, such as, “I have to take care of my family,” and “I’m only doing what I was told to do,” and my personal favorite “Hey, what are you gonna do?” Eliminate these “reasons” for making decisions that just don’t serve a greater purpose and don’t fit you.

3. Leaders don’t sell out

Leadership is about doing the right things and holding firm in that approach. Why is this so hard to do? Maybe you are worried about losing your job. Or, worried about not having enough money to feed your family? Or, worried about being the rebel. Maybe we should worry less about these things and worry more about how willingly we give up on being ourselves. Standing your ground doesn’t mean you have to give up on success. It may mean you find even great success, just in a different place than you have been looking.I used to look for success in the manufacturing management world.

My experiences told me I wasn’t in the right place and it surely wasn’t the right fit. Once I listened to that inner voice, I found the job I was created for and have experienced success I never knew I could reach.Three speaker colleagues I admire tremendously have abandoned the molds of the world and decided to just be themselves. It doesn’t mean they don’t work hard at what they do, it doesn’t mean they don’t sharpen their skills and make efforts to constantly improve.

It means they don’t compromise themselves for anyone or anything, and their success is the proof of how effective this way of living can be. Think about it. You know which decisions during the day are the ones that ring true to you and which ones are going against your grain. Leaders make the right choices because they can feel it within themselves. Be who you are and care enough about yourself to be the best you, you can become.

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