Whatever You Do, Don't Be Generic

If you had to identify a single insight or life lesson to leave the world with, what would it be? There are thousands of useful aphorisms and eloquent quotes to consider from the world’s most brilliant minds. But if I had only one piece of advice to offer it would simply be this: whatever you do, don’t be generic. Instead, strive to be an anomaly.

It’s a simple but powerful concept to consider. It should come as no surprise that when we willingly place labels on ourselves and sacrifice our intricacies to fit neatly within the boxes of the tribes we identify with, a decline into generic is the obvious end result. For all the backlash against stereotypes, most of us don’t do much to deter them. When we discover Group X, Y or Z, we have a tendency to act, dress, and carry ourselves entirely in a way that mimics that group, rather than making it just another piece of our larger identities.

It’s important to note that mimicry does serve a purpose, primarily as our most valuable tool throughout childhood. We would be unable to develop even the most basic physical and social skills without it. During the teenage years it evolves into more of a defense mechanism. Kids can be ruthless and you’re also trying to negotiate the dumpster fire that is your adolescent brain. The trouble occurs when this stage of mimicry persists into later life and you get full-grown generic adults.

In order to be truly interesting, you must be an anomaly.

As we negotiate what it means to be interesting, it’s useful to start with what it’s not. It certainly isn’t predictability. When I meet someone and they immediately label themselves and mindlessly adopt all attitudes and the appearance that comes along with that role, there’s really no need to continue the conversation. Predictable translates to ordinary and forgettable.

By contrast, the most interesting people we meet are unpredictable in that they are not easily labeled (not unpredictable as in batshit crazy). They’re multidimensional and impossible to sum up in a single sentence because they are so many things. However, there does exist a common thread among every captivating person: unique experiences.

Experience is the most powerful form of capital.

Experience is invaluable. It’s unwavering and the only form of capital that’s entirely recession proof. I would say war proof but if we wipe ourselves out in a nuclear holocaust, it won’t do us a tremendous amount of good. Assuming we’re alive, experience opens more doors and opportunities than any currency on the market.

Interesting, engaging people – the anomalies – recognize this and always have a wealth of unique (and true) experiences that transcend the molds we might otherwise cast upon them. These experiences stretch across nearly every aspect of their lives: intellectual, personal, professional, social, travel, etc. It’s a combination of all of the above, in a way that’s entirely unique to that person – an important defining characteristic. This is the reason that being part of any large association, club, or fan base is relatively worthless.

At this point you might be sounding some sort of internal alarm if you’re compelled to believe that everyone is special in their own way. While I agree to the extent that life is to be cherished, I would argue that not everyone is really that interesting. When someone hasn’t taken time to develop a unique identity and experiences, that’s a glaring flaw in character.

Society suggests otherwise because we’ve built fundamental belief systems on denouncing desirable yet elusive characteristics that demand hard work and risk, and instead praising what’s easiest and most common – meekness has become synonymous with goodness, submission with obedience, etc.

In order to avoid settling for generic you must shatter your comfort zone time and time again. This requires a great deal of courage. It’s a monumental challenge, that’s why it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s far easier to sit back, find a routine, and simply exist. In many ways society promotes this, as mentioned above. But the reality is that you can’t be an anomaly without unique experiences that transcend the ordinary.

The most interesting minds, the ones we remember, are those who boldly, unapologetically live their lives to their highest imaginable capacity.

The importance of the anomaly is that these are the people we learn from. They are the ones who inspire us while making a tangible difference in the world. There’s no prescribed set of actions to achieve this and it’s by no means definitive. Contemplating such advice will mean different things to different people, as well it should. But whatever you choose to be in this life, don’t be generic. Color yourself as an anomaly.