The Hidden Power of NOT (Always) Fitting In: Marianne Cantwell (Transcript)

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.

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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.

And then one day, to my publisher’s surprise, I found myself the author of a bestselling book related to this. And suddenly things exploded. Those opportunities I was circling for years were just pinging in my inbox. It was like my little island I created was attractive and everyone wanted to come and visit.

And so I did just what you expected at that point when my star was at his highest and I had a breakdown. I disappeared from the scene very quietly and turned down everything from keynote invitations — I mean I didn’t create anything new in that time either; I just couldn’t.

But the weird thing was at that same time the national press saw me as this sort of expert in entrepreneurship and location independence, I was kind of like the post to go for digital nomads. Every time I’d get a call I would think, “Why are they talking to me?” Yes, I had a business that I was running from around the world but I didn’t feel like the person the magazines wanted to write about.

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I mean for starters, digital nomads are supposed to be these sort of frugal travelers without a home who live out of their perfectly packed suitcase with like I know 2 T-shirts all year or something. I mean, I am terrible at packing. Seriously it’s not a key strength.

My hobby is interior design. I can’t stop buying cushions. And so I felt like my messy liminal self didn’t have anywhere to breath. I was like they’ve got this one wrong. And I don’t even want to be what they think I am.

Just to be clear if that happened earlier it wouldn’t have been a problem, right? I just would have stepped into my differences without a second thought. It wouldn’t have even bothered me.

But not now. You see, in my mind it was fine to be all messy and liminal when you were the scrappy upstart. But there was still that 16 year old girl who believed her teacher, who believed that proper success meant fitting into one place properly and staying there. Others would kill for that opportunity, you’ve all heard that? Play the part.

But I couldn’t keep talking about this stuff while feeling that way. So I took time out and went on a journey to figure this out. And it finally clicked one day that the people I most admired, people at the top of their field, I’m talking real household names, they didn’t do things the way I was telling myself I had to do them now. They didn’t let success on their island and turn it into a trap that defined who they could be or the one way to do things.

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