By Daniella Sachs
My mother bumped into my very first pre-primary school teacher a while ago. “Ah, how is your daughter doing?”, my former teacher said with a twinkle in her eye. “Off on some tangent or the other doing something I hardly understand,” responded my mother. “I’m still waiting for her to settle down, grow up and behave like a normal person.” Unfussed, my teacher looked my mother straight in the eye and said “But Maryann, I would expect nothing less. Your daughter was always different. It was evident to us all even when she was 3 years old.”
Hearing my mother tell this story shook me to the core. Why, you ask? Because for all these years I had considered my inability to fit in and be like everyone else, a fault . Only when I heard my mother recount this story did I realise that my being different was an intrinsic gift.
How I wish I had known this as a child, so that I could have spent all this time learning how to embrace and nurture my difference, instead of hiding and battling it in an endless, failing quest to try to belong.
You see, we are taught from a young age not to be different. Show just one spark of difference at school and you quickly become the target of the insecure, who string you up and stamp on you in an attempt to gain kudos with the cool kids. So, to protect yourself, you try your utmost to blend in. Instead of showing up, you learn the art of hiding. Eventually, you become so good at censoring yourself that you forget what it means to be uniquely you.
The question that strikes me today as an entrepreneur is “Why are we discouraged to embrace our own uniqueness?”
In entrepreneurship, we talk about the pixie dust of success that sets a company apart as its unique selling point. We laud, glorify and extoll ‘difference’, and seek it out like the Lost City of El Dorado. We pour our energy into inventing frameworks and formulas to walk us through the journey of differentiation discovery, hoping against hope that it will lead us to find our pot of gold.
Why do we celebrate difference when it comes to entrepreneurship, but try to hide it when it comes to our personal lives?
Why do we want so badly to be accepted, to fit in, to belong, that we tie ourselves to society’s tick-box? As someone who has tried so many times to fit into this box, only to be left with limbs protruding awkwardly out at all angles, I can tell you that it is painfully constricting to spend your life denying your innate difference.
It has not been an easy journey to accept my difference, to step out of the shadows and show up as myself. The fear of judgement and rejection has at times been paralysing to say the least. But what has kept me going on this path of self-rediscovery is that each step I have taken has opened up opportunities and possibilities, rather than the denunciation I feared would be the reprisal.
As I have embarked on this journey, I have started to realise that those things that are so different about me, are actually my unique selling point. These are things that go beyond talents or “superpowers”. It is in the way I intrinsically see the world differently. It is in the things that I find easy, which other people often battle with. It is what excites me and inspires me, as much as what ignites my jealousy and feelings of unworthiness. It is in the things that feed my curiosity and quirky creativity. It is what I wish I could achieve in that small corner of my heart, which I may try to ignore and push down.
As I have started to explore and embrace my intrinsic uniqueness, the feelings of stuckness, constriction and frustration have abated.
Instead of waiting for society’s permission, I have realised I can craft my own reality and unique place in this world. Not everyone is going to like it or approve of it, but as hard as it is, I have learnt to be okay with that.
This is because in entrepreneurship, we craft our business’s unique selling point knowing that we are not going to appeal to everyone. In fact our core aim is to attract and create value for a very specific market segment. It is part of our business objective to be crystal clear on who that customer is and who it is not. So too in life, our task is not to please everyone, but to find and build the community we care about and truly want to serve.
I don’t believe that I’m the only one who was born different. I believe that we are all different in our own unique way, but we have quelled this difference in order to fit in, to be liked or to be approved of. So I want to ask you to consider what makes you different. What do you bring to the world that sets you apart? What is your unique selling point? And who is the community that you truly want to serve?
Daniella Sachs is a multidisciplinary tourism innovation expert, disruptor, Africanist and thought leader who publishes regularly on why we need to change the way we think about tourism. She is the co-founder of Know Your Tourist, a travel and tourism design and innovation house that collaborates with visionary business builders to bring bold new travel and tourism ideas to life.
Some of the many thought-provoking topics she has written on include: