I heard the actor Jim Caviezel say “You weren’t born to fit in. You were born to standout.” His words struck a chord with me and made me stop and think. Why do we settle for fitting in and stifle our individuality and limit our impact.
His words struck me because, to some extent, we need to get along with people, but do we really need to fit in. Seems we have an inherent need to fit in. So how do we standout and still meet that need to fit in. Can we do both or should we try for both?
To start with, I believe it is very important to be yourself. You can be better at being yourself than you will be trying to be anyone else. I love the saying “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.” So I guess there’s that exception to the rule.
So why do we become such conformist? I think most people just want to feel that others like them. That they have approval from those they value. It’s the path of less resistance, the easy way. Robert Frost wrote “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I remember talking with a young man dressed all in black, hair dyed black, and wearing silver spiky things. He looked just like all of his friends around him. I asked him why he dressed like that and he said he wanted to do his own thing. The flaw in his thought process was he was doing exactly what those around him were doing. He was fitting in with his peers.
You see, trying to fit in with a group runs the risk of limiting the expression of who you really are and it limits your impact in the world. It takes great courage to stand out. To be different. It takes great confidence in yourself.
One such person with this courage and confidence was Cassius Clay. As a child he asked his mother “Why is Jesus and the people at the last supper all white when they lived in an area that didn’t have many white people?” Even as a child he could see that the perception of Jesus and the 12 apostles was wrong. Later he stood by his principals and refused to be drafted to fight in Viet Nam. He changed his name because he felt his birth name was given to his ancestors by slave owners to identify them as the slave owner’s property. He changed his religion to follow what he believed was the religion of his ancestors. He spoke his mind and lived life on his terms.
Along the way, Mohammad Ali, faced enormous challenges. After winning the gold medal in the Olympics, he returned to his home town and knew he would finally be respected enough that he would be able to eat “downtown” where only whites were allowed. After all, he stood on the podium, victorious, representing our country as the national anthem played, and it was broadcast on television around the world. But as he sat down to order a meal “downtown,” he was told that they didn’t serve “Negros.”
When asked how many pushups he did, Ali replied “I don’t know. I don’t start counting until I’m tired.” His work ethic was second to none. Granted, Ali was an amazing athlete, but he was smart, extremely smart. In the fight called the “Rumble in the Jungle” (Ali vs. George Foreman) Ali employed a strategy he called “Rope-A-Dope.” The strategy was simple, let Foreman hit Ali until Foreman was worn out. Foreman’s powerful blows driving into Ali’s arms and body throughout the early rounds. All the while, Ali was taunting Foreman.
Ali had spent about 3 ½ years out of boxing because he refused to be drafted and was stripped of his boxing title. Ali was 32 years old, Foreman, the World Champion, 25. Foreman was stronger and had youth on his side. In the heat and humidity, those were great advantages. Ali had his mind and experience.
Forman was cut in a sparring match so the fight had to be delayed. During the delay, Ali traveled around the country and got the people to love him. At the fight, the crowd chanted at an overwhelming volume “Ali, boma ye!” or “Ali, kill him.”
The combination of the Rope-A-Dope and the fan support wore Foreman out. Ali knocked out Foreman and became the World Champion, again.
Most trainers would have told Ali that his plan would never work. But Ali knew it would and thus became a part of one of the most remembered fights in history. And he became known as “The Greatest.” Note, he’s not known as the greatest fighter, he is simply The Greatest.
As we go about our daily lives do we take the easy road and fit in or do we truly believe we were made to standout, made for greatness. Are you willing to pay the price for what you believe in? To stand up to injustice as Ali did? To go as far as to remake your identity as Ali did? Are you willing to pay the price to be The Greatest you, you can be? Were you born to fit in or were you made to standout? That is the question.