When Do You Stand Out?…
…and when do you fit it?
It’s an incredibly important question.
Stand out or fit in.
Not all the time, and never at the same time, but it’s always a choice.
Those that choose to fit in should expect to avoid criticism (and be ignored). Those that stand out should expect neither.
And he’s right. While you can never do both at the same time, there are times for each.
Sometimes you need to go with the flow, make it work, adopt the prevailing sensibilities. Sometimes you fit in. That’s the safe route, and sometimes the smarter one. But odds are you’re not going to change anything with this strategy, not contribute anything of great significance, and not point your organization (whether that’s a church, business, volunteer agency, class, or family) in any new directions. But sometimes that’s exactly what’s called for.
At other times, though, the group you’re a part of needs you to stand up, to point out new possibilities, to make some waves, to raise provocative questions, to question common assumptions, and to disrupt the status quo. That’s the harder route. And when you choose it you can bank on meeting with anxiety, resistance, and criticism. But it’s the only way to introduce change.
But how do you know when to do which? That’s the question.
The answer, I think, rests in figuring out two things:
1) What can you handle right now? What’s your energy-level, how thick is your skin at the moment, what else do you have going on, how much support do you have? You can’t do everything and you need to exercise discretion. Sometimes you need to lay low, prioritize, conserve your strength for another endeavor. At other times, however, you’re rested, ripe, and ready to go. You’ve got energy to spare and capital to spend. You’re filled with good ideas and busting to make a difference. Pay attention to where you are as you assess which route to follow, and don’t make this assessment at night. (An old Ukranian saying gets it right: “the morning is wiser than the evening.”)
2) What does your group need? Sometimes the group needs you to lay low. Sometimes it’s not ready to move forward but needs to step back and reorganize or recover. But sometimes “study” and “discuss” are really just covers for “procrastinate” and “avoid,” and the group needs you to shake things up and take the lead. Sometimes the group needs you to be the burr under the saddle, provoking them to do something new. Sometimes the group needs you to help them shake “group think” and come at the problem from a new angle. Sometimes the group needs you to remind them of their assets and possibilities when all they can see are their liabilities and challenges.
In the end, it’s not about getting noticed or making a splash or advancing your career or looking good. It’s about asking what your group needs and what you can handle. Put those two questions together – and if you’re having a hard time figuring that out, ask a trusted friend – and you can usually discern when it’s time to stand out and when it’s time to fit in.