“If your number one goal is to make sure that everyone likes and approves of you, then you risk sacrificing your uniqueness, and, therefore, your excellence.” ~Unknown
I can remember many times in my life when I was afraid to stand out.
When listening to a lecture or panel discussion at school, I always had questions to ask, but the moment I finally raised my hand, my heart would start palpitating and gravity would force my arm down.
The same thing happened in business meetings. I struggled to articulate my ideas, although I was sure they could have brought some new impulses. In the end, I felt miserable, as I’d missed another chance to join the debate.
Why was it so difficult to speak out on the topics I was interested in? I’d missed so many opportunities to contribute and make my voice heard; to crack jokes or wear the clothes I wanted to wear; to try crazy things or be the only one on the dance floor.
I missed out on being me, but I couldn’t manage to overcome my fear of standing out.
What would others think of me?
What if I said something stupid?
What if they laughed?
What if everybody stared at me?
Why don’t we dare to stand out more often?
Starting at a very early age, we learn that standing out is not desirable. When children speak their mind or they’re loud, playing wild games, adults tell them to calm down and be quiet. Many parents fear their offspring standing out in a way that might not be flattering, whereas when it comes to competing with others, kids are absolutely encouraged to stand out.
In school, when articulating an opinion or questioning what they’ve learned, students are often labeled rebellious. Few teachers manage to appreciate uniqueness, because it means work.
In adolescence, we’re torn between the desire to express our individuality and the urge to be accepted. Many times, we prefer to fit in because we’ve learned that we’re only going to belong to a group if we are like others expect us to be. But deep inside, we feel that something is missing.
Showing Your True Colors
Daring to stand out means being your true self, speaking your mind, dressing the way you want, or laughing out loud, even if you’re the only one who finds something funny.
It means being different, following your dreams when no one believes in you, speaking up when no one else does, and making a difference in your life or the life of others by being who you are.
Standing out implies being in the limelight, even if your audience consists of only one person.
Whether it’s changing your life for good, getting a style makeover, asking uncomfortable questions and touching on sensitive subjects, joining a charity or keeping your lonely neighbor company, taking part in a local theatre play or quitting your banking job to buy your own food truck—that’s what makes you stand out, because you dare and care.
All Magic Comes at A Price
We all have talents and aspirations, some small, some big. Some might not be mainstream. This is when things start getting complicated and uncomfortable: in one way or another, we might rub someone the wrong way.
We will never be able to please everyone.
When standing out, we show the world that we’re here, and that we’re part of it; that we have something to say that might inspire others or even brighten their day.
Take a deep breath, step out of your comfort zone, and reveal the person you really are.
What’s to Lose?
If others don’t want you to stand out, it’s because they don’t want you to grow. If you started to live the life you wanted, it might make them feel uncomfortable about themselves. Don’t let that hold you back.
You might lose some acquaintances or false friends, but true friends will encourage and support you. And a lot of people will admire you for your courage. Even better, you will be loved for who you are. Isn’t this one of our deepest longings?
3 Daring Steps to Let Your Unique Inner Self Shine
It requires some courage to tackle the fear of standing out. You can always start small and take it one step at a time. But, if you feel adventurous, you might want to try one of these three daring steps to let your unique inner self shine.
1. Go against the flow.
If you don’t enjoy what everybody likes, stand by it. If you have another opinion, say it. If you don’t want to join your friends for the hottest event of the year, don’t go.
What matters is that you feel good about yourself. It might mean not being part of the majority. So what? Dare to be a splash of color in a society of uniformity. You will always find like-minded people you can connect with.
2. Dare to be unpopular.
If the only way to popularity is by compromising your true self, then turn down the offer. Let others know what you want and what your boundaries are.
Accept that you can’t be loved by everyone, and choose not to make your well-being dependent on others. The less glamorous but sustainable kind of popularity comes with authenticity.
3. Embarrass yourself.
A moment of embarrassment by choice can be very liberating. You’ll learn that you’re not going to die, and the ground won’t swallow you up (even if you wished for it).
Quite often, others don’t even notice whatever you’re feeling embarrassed about. It’s mostly in your head. So next time you’re invited to a karaoke bar, grab the microphone and sing your heart out.
In school and in business meetings, whenever I was anxious to take part in the discussion, the majority of other participants didn’t raise their hands, either, and remained silent like me.
I wasn’t the only one but didn’t realize it. Instead, I was focused on the chance of embarrassing myself. The fear of standing out is rampant.
Yes, standing out means being vulnerable, and it opens us up to the risk of being ridiculed, but it also gives us the possibility of letting our uniqueness shine and showing others who we really are. Does this feel so bad after all?
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt
About Andrea Haupts
Andrea Haupts is a PR & Communications executive turned freelance author and an anxiety expert by experience. She’s passionate about helping others to live a full and fearless life. Having lived in Europe and Asia, she currently commutes between Dubai, UAE and Europe. Learn more on how to be fearless on her recently launched blog www.myfearlessheart.com.