But what is the alternative? Well, it’s to create your own island — an island where every bit of you fits. And you create this island just off the shore of your favorite continent. And it takes the best of that world and fills out the rest with the best of the other worlds you have a foot in. So these could be bits of your personality, background or something you can’t help being.
So, let me just give you an example. Consider an island where you do business strategy for people who run their own thing. Now the continent approach will be to look for others who do this and tell yourself, “There should be more like them!” Maybe Facebook stalk them or something.
Here you get to create your own version. So your island could be populated by the fact that you are a highly sensitive person, in a field that is traditionally more brash, could have some of the storytelling you can’t help do, a sprinkle of your travel lust, a light dusting of being a straight talker and so on.
By the way, that’s a fair description of one of my islands. And I couldn’t have found that job description anywhere, right? I did look.
And that’s the bottom line. You don’t find your place as a liminal person. You create it.
So, as I said that, I realized, this could sound like, “Isn’t this a compromise?” Like a workaround to deal with your weirdness? Wouldn’t it be better to not be like this in the first place?
Well, when you take the things that means to be liminal, like having a foot in more than one place and bridging worlds, slightly a different personality to others around you, maybe not focusing on one idea forever for the exclusion of anything else.
When you take those things and apply them to yourself we can feel shame. Like we are getting it wrong. Being weird. Not doing the grown-up thing right.
But here’s the thing: If you take those same traits and apply them to others, you know who that describes? It describes leaders. It describes changemakers, innovators, creators. It describes the very people we are telling our children to aspire to be and they get there through the traits that we tell ourselves to squish down and hide.
I mean, take successful innovators. Innovation does not happen by some guys sitting in a silent white room for weeks just waiting for inspiration to strike. No, that kind of sounds like how right this block happens.
But innovation, however, happens through — well, generally from an idea being taken from one world and used in another, like say a tiny camera with a tiny plastic lens that didn’t sell to camera buyers but put it on the back of a mobile phone, and bingo.
Similarly people who create movements who are seen at the forefront of their field, they didn’t get there by being like everyone else in that continent. They created their own island off the coast of that space. Movements are created by liminal people.
So, your liminal edge could be something about background, or maybe a personality trait that you could hide away for being too different but instead you step into.
Like this guy, Ricky who organized conferences where world leading specialists gave insightful speeches. But Ricky had a personality quirk a little different to others around him: impatience. He was a conference organizer who got really bored by long speeches.
So he started giving his speakers shorter and shorter time slots. Shorter than anything on the scene at the time and the little known TED conference started to take off. That’s why we are sitting here today.
This is not about being some sort of rebel who is all different for the sake of it. Being liminal, it’s like being an inside outsider, with one foot in the world you want to move in and a foot elsewhere. And you get to decide where those borders lie.
From introverts to extroverts in every shade of grey in-between this applies. It’s always those pieces we are so tempted to hide in the shadows that turn out to be our edge when we bring them into the light.
I think I sort of stop here a second. Say you might be listening to this and thinking, “This is inspiring stuff!” hopefully or “I like these ideas. I’m totally going to tell my kids about them!”
But realistically maybe you already are a leader. Or you are just somewhere where you’ve worked hard for, right? And there can be a sense that maybe this is for someone younger or newer without so much to lose. Not me. Not now.
And I get this. I mean, I really get this because to be honest with you, that is how I felt a few years ago. See, everything had come together with my work, finally, after a lot of hard work. I had a business doing stuff I loved with great people, living between beautiful countries.