Do you remember when you applied to a summer college engineering program for high schoolers? You didn’t want to apply because you were afraid you wouldn’t get in. After going back and forth, I finally convinced you to apply just to see what happens. I promised I would be whatever you need me to be to support you. I was so proud that you applied. Although you wrote a beautiful essay, I remember how worried you were because your GPA didn’t make the cut.
I didn’t worry, I believed in you. You were so smart. I thought, if you could just get that interview, you’d win them over.
Your wisdom was beyond your years. You had a clear understanding of your values and what was really important to you. This consequently meant, you were this multi-dimensional character while society was trying to fit you into its one dimensional mold.
You spent many hours on YouTube teaching yourself how to play the guitar and then started a band with your friends. You helped your mom clean the house and your dad fix the car. Whenever one of your friends was in trouble, you’d drop everything to help them.
If you didn’t agree with your teacher, you were bold, asked questions and wanted to debate. Not because you liked to argue, but because you needed to understand the reasoning behind what they were teaching you. If you thought a homework assignment was stupid, you didn’t do it. Instead, you’d read advanced Physics books and work in the garage learning the balance between theory and practice. Your decision to not complete your homework assignments, debating with your teacher and overall disengagement in your classes led to your many in-school suspensions. However, you made the best of every situation. I remember you’d bring your ukulele to school to sing with others stuck in detention, the other oddly-shaped pegs that didn’t fit the ideal mold.
Society, teachers, counselors, bosses all tell you to be your authentic self. Yet, if you stray too far from the pack, you become too disruptive and need to be separated from all the kids who fit in. What they are really saying is, “Always be yourself. Unless you’re different. You don’t belong and you need to change or be separated from the others.”
Recently, I was invited to the University of Michigan at Ross Business School to lead a workshop focusing on Strengths Coaching. It was the first time I publicly revealed a personal Moment of Courage. One part of Strengths Coaching is to identify your unique strengths, learn how to communicate them to others and find a place that values those unique and personal strengths. This philosophy of coaching defines a strength to be an activity that energizes you. At U-M, I shared a story of how I came to discover one of my strengths.
At the end of the workshop, I led the students through an activity on how to build their own strength statements and create a ‘trading card’ to illustrate their strengths.
I’ll always remember the students who came up to me after the workshop, and those who sent me follow-up emails, expressing how they related to the personal story I shared. I wasn’t the only one? Because of them, I feel empowered to continue being a voice for those who feel unheard, for those who feel isolated because they are different and for those whose measurement of success looks completely different than their peers.
I thought of you during my talk. My experience and those students who came up to me after class are proof you aren’t alone. I’ll always remember the sound in your voice. You were sad, but wanted to hide that from me. The college engineering program denied you. Listen when I say, and for the sake of the world, please don’t let this roadblock discourage you. You have a gift. I see the burning fire within your soul, your extraordinary ideas and exceptional intelligence you bear. You value to help someone more than building your personal reputation or playing politics to get you the top. You live for the moments you can make someone smile. I know you didn’t do your homework because it wasn’t challenging or meaningful to you. Sometimes, you felt something was wrong with you and you let your GPA define who you were. It broke my heart, for every second, you thought you were dumb because you didn’t check the boxes that society measured as successful. You inspire me, in the work I do every day. I love my job because my greatest responsibility is to hold up a mirror to people like you. That can’t yet, see what I see. We need your strength. I hope you wear your strengths proudly and shout it out to the world. And I hope, you find a place the values you for entirely who you are. You deserve that.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Rob Siltanen