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”. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.
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.”