Outsider as Insider
PREAMBLESeveral months ago, I was tasked with writing a manifesto at work. The particular charge was to identify what it was that made us different; what qualities we were possessing of that would cause a potential client and/or industry person to take notice of us, and eventually hire us.
The following brief is what came out. Suffice to say that it was a bit too...much for the powers that be. Still: as I’ve sat with this stuff, I realize that I wasn’t necessarily talking about ‘us’ (duh) but rather was describing what(ever) it is that I am. Whatever that is.
There’s ‘we’ language, ‘you’ language, and ‘us’ language in here. And ‘It’ language. I know. It’s confusing and poorly written. But!
ONE. WHAT IS IT?You're the same, but different. Different in the smallest, most superficial—but immediately identifiable—way(s). An innocuous cog that forces a reaction. Any reaction. Dennis Rodman.
That is to say, you're the real thing, but you look like you're not. As opposed to (what we are now) being a pretender—a scrappy upstart—vying to fit in and being immediately identifiable for that fact. For better or worse.
I'm not sure what I prefer. I sort of like the notion of winning—of losing, even—as myself. I'm not sure that evolution into—changing; becoming—the thing that I'm supposed to be—the thing that comes next—and then dressing as the thing that I used to be is what I want.
I'm not sure I like that picture. But it's what we're talking about. We're talking about a wolf in sheep's clothing. Or maybe a sheep in wolf's clothing. Either way.
TWO. WHAT DOES IT CARE ABOUT?It has a chip on it's shoulder. It knows it's the same as everybody else, but demands to be seen as the slightly different creature that it—somehow; maybe outside of it's own control—is. Or that it looks like.
It cares about the same things every other entity of it's kind cares about, but it approaches those things through the lens of being superficially—but fundamentally—different.
It is afflicted by moments of doubt. Paint-thinner is applied, but colors run true. And then relief sets in. But only for a while. Then repeat. You're different, whether you like it or not. You're not in control. So be what you are. But what you are is a white rat in a dark tunnel. A tracer flying bright through a night sky; illuminating paths to targets while drawing a map back to where you came from. You're exploitable. There is no hiding.
Your strengths lie in your vulnerabilities. Be where you came from. Be what you stand for. Be what—be WHY—you matter.
THREE. HOW DOES IT BEHAVE? HOW DOES IT THINK?It thinks like a thumb. It's different—better—than the lot it's been grouped with. It uses its fundamental fingerness to position itself in situations that would be otherwise unattainable and then approaches those opportunities as the unique, strange, and altogether different entity that it is. For better or worse.
It hides in plain sight. It doesn't say a single solitary thing about itself that isn't true. It will tell you more about what it isn't than what it is. It will leave blanks for you to fill in yourself. it will let you be wrong just so it can be right. It will help you get places by showing you where not to go.
It brings a baseball bat to a football stadium and is not surprised when you spend the game trying to figure out why. It knows how to use your curiosity in complement to and as compensation for its limitations.
It sits patiently and waits for you to ask it why it's smiling.
And when you do, it knows you belong to it.
Because you do.
And it's only sort of disappointed in you for that fact.
< Back to Essays