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Why Is It Hard to Be Different?

On a surface level, being different is valued and prized. Many popular TV series, from Wednesday to Stranger Things, demonstrate the benefits and “cool factor” of being different.

Yet these shows (and books, songs, games, and so on) point to a curious distinction: we like the idea of difference, but we don’t usually want to be different ourselves.

The fact is that to truly be different is hard. By the time it’s cool to be different in any meaningful way, whatever is involved in “being different” has become ordinary.

People form opinions and make judgments based on what is commonly accepted and familiar. The outside world—and not just some people, but almost everyone—tends to resist change and prefer familiar things.

So what can be done? For the vast majority of people, who will never really be different, there’s a simple answer: take the benefits of being different without paying the cost.

Don’t Want to Be Different? That’s Okay!

You can achieve 90% of the benefit of “being different” without actually doing it!

The desire for recognition and validation, along with the comfort of conformity, often takes precedence over the desire for true independence. And guess what? This is fine. Nothing wrong with avoiding discomfort and exclusion if you’re not truly committed to the cause.

But of course, there’s just one problem. The problem is: what if pretending doesn’t work for you?

Ah, well, that’s where it gets tough. If you don’t want an unremarkably average life, if you truly want to chart a course of independence and originality—you have your work cut out for you.

Simply put, you must be prepared to be misunderstood. You must learn to be comfortable with rejection. You will not “have it all,” the way some life coaches promise, and you certainly won’t have “balance.” You will not be able to take it easy in the same way others do.

To be clear, it’s not as though everything in your life will be terribly difficult or that you won’t enjoy anything. Quite the contrary: some things will be easier, and you’ll have many moments of happiness and joy.

It’s just that you’ll experience these things in different ways than other people do, which can be isolating. Furthermore, you’ll have higher highs and lower lows.

Is that worth it to you? Most people will answer no, either directly or through their lived experience of being un-different. A select few will answer yes, not for any perceived (and fleeting) status, but for the true and lasting benefit of difference itself.

To be different in any significant way is to be in a minority. Once a large group of people embraces difference (whatever it is), it’s no longer unusual, and therefore much easier.

Therefore, if you want to be sort-of-but-not-really different, it’s easily done. You can even tell yourself that you’re different, deriving the benefits of perceived difference while rising above the criticism or exclusion that comes from actually being different.

But that’s, well, different. To be different means you stand alone, or at least you stand apart from the crowd.

Being different brings new perspectives and creativity to the world. People who change the world are—inevitably—different.