Full transcript of author Marianne Cantwell’s TEDx Talk: The Hidden Power of NOT (Always) Fitting In @ TEDxNorwichED conference. She is the author of the book “Be a Free Range Human”.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The hidden power of not (always) fitting in by Marianne Cantwell @ TEDxNorwichED
Marianne Cantwell – Author
This talk is for those of us who are good at looking like we fit in the different worlds we move in, so be it your industry, your social group, different interests you have, or just the stage you stand on.
It’s like from the outside, it looks like you fit. But secretly, a little piece of you never feels you are a 100% fit into any of them.
Now if you’ve ever had an inkling of feeling that way, you are not alone. I mean, I felt the same. So there are definitely two of us.
And I spent the last 8 years helping thousands of people get paid without compromising their personality. And in doing that, I discovered a few things that surprised me about being this way.
You see, for me, not quite fitting into any one identity, started from the moment I could talk. See, I was born in Australia, but my father is English and my Mom was from a little island of Mauritius. So I grew up speaking English and French, with this sort of weird accent that didn’t really fit anywhere in the world, especially not where I grew up.
But the first time I really thought about this topic, was one day when I was 16.
So being a lifelong nerd, at 16, I was at the top of my class along with this other boy. And one day my teacher took me aside and said, “Marianne, you and I have something in common: We are both generalists.”
In which part I thought: “Great, that sounds like a good word!”
And then he continued, “Now, the other boy, he is different from us. He is a specialist. And the one thing I’ve learned is that the world rewards specialists, not generalists. That’s why he’s going to do really well.”
Hearing these words, 16-year old me just thought, “Well, he’s right.” You know, my teacher must be right. If I want to fit and thrive as an adult, I’m going to have to focus on one thing. You know, really make it my mission to fit cleanly into one identity and leave old the messy me behind. And so that’s what I did.
I went to University. I graduated. Moved across the world to London. Started to rise in the work world. And I mean, fitting in it kind of worked. Like on the outside, I was all right at playing the part, you know, sometimes.
But to be honest, on the inside I was stuck, like feeling sort of smaller and smaller. By that point I was googling for better options, like every night. But there were no ideas on how to fix this.
All the advice was the usual clichés like “Find your one big passion”, or “Find your tribe”. Seriously?
What do you do when you’ve never seen a place that you completely fit? Not just one where you kind of look like you do.
And so a decade ago, I decided to take this seriously and I asked myself if it was possible to create a career where you don’t have to fit into a box.
And then I quit my job to make that happen as my own boss. Since then, I have experimented with different free-range ways of working. I’ve run my business from everywhere, places like Bali, and Costa Rica, New York, and London. I’ve run these global online festivals where brilliant thinkers share how they handle these questions.
But most of all, I’ve been privileged to poke inside the heads of thousands of people who feel like this. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is this: We are told through our parents, education, media and more that we live in a black and white world where the game is to get good at one thing. You fit into one identity, what one thing will you be when you grow up? You’ve all heard that, right?
But some of us just aren’t that person at heart. And so that advice leaves us feeling stuck. But what if the mistake isn’t in how you are but in how you were told you should be.
Graham Greene said, “Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.”
Guys, this is how we are as humans. This is how we actually are as humans. And realizing that is a game changer, because it means you haven’t been getting it wrong.
That pull inside that was saying, “Oh, there has to be another way, other than to squish myself into this one-dimensional one-track version of me.” It’s not wrong. We are simply not given a model for the world that lets that way of being thrive.
And to be clear not only is this way of being a “thing”, there’s a word for it: liminal. This is my favorite word, and it describes a state of in-between-ness. Like you are note quite one thing but not quite another. You are on the borderlines. A part of this, but also a part of that of becoming.
And when I first heard this word, I just thought: “Wow, that describes me.” And not just the big life stuff but say, right now on my bookshelf, the Sex and the City novel is cuddling up to a behavioral economics textbook and I love it both of them equally, right? There is actually a word for this.
A great example of liminality would be vampires. They are not quite alive but they are not quite dead. They are not quite human but not quite other. They are not fully evil but they are not all good. They are in-between worlds. It’s like they don’t fit into anyone’s space.
But why would I mention that here? Well, because it’s no mistake that over the past few decades, vampires and zombies have been the topic of some of the cult TV series with the biggest and most dedicated fan bases.
You see, we watch what we desire to be but aren’t allowed to be. And the one thing our society does not allow us to be is liminal. And in a world full of black and white messages, like you are in or out, with us or against us, this or that, then this has a big pull and heads up, now I said it, you will see it everywhere.
I mean, so many popular dramas do the same like ‘Breaking Bad‘. It’s a runaway hit that revolves around the question: Is the main character a family man or something else? Or both? That show is literally about liminality.
You see, we watch this stuff whenever we turn on our TVs or load up on Netflix. But then we go back to real life, where we squish ourselves down. Be one thing. Fit in your box. And millions of us are doing this. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You see, here’s a different model. The way we are told the world works is kind of like a bunch of continents.
Now, these continents could be different industries or identities. So, if this was careers, it could be here is continent lawyer. Here is continent small business arena. Here is continent cupcake baker or something. And your role, we are told, is to find the continent where you really fit. You know, get the visa, learn the customs, rise the ranks by being the one who fits best. But that’s a losing game if you’re liminal, because you don’t quite feel like you fit.