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Why fit in when you were born to stand out? —Dr. Seuss

OK, quiet achievers, introverts and under-stated types—listen up! In an ever-competitive, socially-on-steroids, noisy world, it’s more important than ever to not just blend in with the crowd.

I thought this the other day when a spin instructor screamed, “We don’t wake up to give up—go harder!” in a recent class. The message was strong, especially at that volume… and looking around, I realized her class was packed. In fact, this particular teacher never has a spare bike in sight. Is she the best? Honestly, I don’t think so. I mean, she’s good, but I’m not sure she’s wildly superior to the other instructors, but they somehow don’t have similarly loyal followings.

So, why her? I believe it’s because she’s truly, unequivocally, unashamedly herself. And it works. People gravitate toward authenticity and personal power. Think about it: Who are some of the most successful people you know?

I betcha bottom dollar they Don’t. Blend. In. Lady Gaga? Amy Schumer? Lena Dunham? Kanye West? Mark Zuckerberg? Amy and Mark are also self-proclaimed introverts, so this isn’t a distinction between introverts versus extroverts. It’s a conversation about owning who you are. And letting the real you surface—and kick ass in the process.

Here are six potential reasons that you may not be receiving the adequate attention that you deserve… and what you can do about it:

1. You haven’t identified your own values.

Do you blend in because you don’t know exactly what you stand for? A great clue in identifying your values is understanding who you admire and look up to. Just say your role models are Beyoncé, Hillary Clinton, and Cheryl Strayed. What do they have in common? They are all strong-willed, they all have unique voices, and they are all leaders in their field and fervently support causes that they believe in. Brainstorm who inspires you and connect the dots—it’s easier than you think!

2. You play it safe.

Say you do know who you are, but you’re afraid to show it. Why? It’s easier to stay hidden. Our ego might allow us to believe that we’re humble or modest (even shy—a term that should be reserved for children under 11), but the truth is we don’t want to open ourselves up to criticism. Aristotle said that the only way to avoid criticism is “to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” That is no way to live! How is playing it safe working for you, really?

3. You like to fit in.

The term “upward convergence” means that you tend to mirror the accent, dialect, and style of the group you are in. Naturally, we use different language with our in-laws than we do with our colleagues, and speak more informally to an old college friend than a new acquaintance. But this standard code-switching should not be confused with someone who has a desire to fit in on larger scale.

Upward convergence shows intelligence and warmth, and is often associated with successful people, but being agreeable just to avoid ruffling feathers on a more significant level can work against you. If you refuse to voice your opinion, avoid providing feedback at work, and won’t share your brilliant ideas, how will anyone know your worth?

4. You don’t take risks.

As the old saying goes, “No risk, no reward.” What risks are you afraid to take because blending in is simpler? This can be anything from major goals you are scared to tackle to minor decisions that can get in the way of your happiness. For instance, I always wanted to wear Ray-Bans, but never thought I was cool enough (and back in the day, they were for real stand-out sort of people).

I shied away and bought less-cool sunglasses until I thought, “Eff it!” and got the aviators I wanted. The only responses I got? Cool sunglasses! What was I worried about?!

I worked with a guy in advertising technology who was known as a Digital Prophet. He traveled the world interviewing online entrepreneurs. He asked bold, unexpected questions and had funky hair, painted nails, and a truly unique edge. Everyone knew his name. His individuality was the basis of his entire career.

5. You don’t speak up.

Many of my clients who are introverts fail to speak up at work because it’s simply not in their nature to attract attention to themselves. I understand; I’m an extrovert, and I still fear speaking up, introducing myself to people, and making my opinion heard (I’m often plagued by the thought, “Will they think my idea is stupid?”). And that’s OK.

But in life, we need to push ourselves a little. We’re here to expand and grow, after all. The potential advantage is often way greater than the disadvantages that we build up in our minds too. So raise that hand and use that voice! They don’t exist by accident.

6. You fear outshining others.

This is a common fear many people have, not just introverts. We don’t want to outshine a friend, a sibling, or our spouse. But that line of thinking doesn’t benefit anyone—not even the person you are trying to protect.

The world does not benefit from you hiding your badassery. Allow that sparkle to shine, baby! What are you waiting for? When you shine your inner light, you secretly inspire others to do the same too.

Consider this: It’s the end of your life. You are an 85-year-old in a rocking chair.

If you spent your life just blending in, not showing the world what’s truly inside of you, will you be proud of a tombstone that reads, “Here lies Jane. She never bothered anyone, I guess?”

So, how are you ready to stand out?


Originally featured in Greatist.

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