Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Reconnecting to our individuality enhances our experience of life and the world around us — and helps us see the uniqueness within others
It happened in the main shopping street in Windhoek, Namibia. I caught sight of my smiling reflection in a shop front. The window was full of clothes that looked nothing like those I was wearing, or could imagine buying. There was a blue satin, hip-hugging evening dress with a wide frill around the bottom in a bold patterned fabric in pinks and lilacs. This was next to a shiny two-piece with a peplum jacket in an apricot colour. The people around me were speaking a language I didn’t understand. It was baking hot. On all levels the situation was foreign to me.
I stood still for a few moments, totally at ease and kid-like happy. Why did I feel totally at home here, in a place 10,000 kilometres away from where I grew up? Then I got it. I finally realized that being a fish out of water in so many areas of my life, for so many years, had become my superpower. Whenever I’d tried to fit in, I’d rapidly become a diluted version of myself and suffered deeply. When I relaxed into my differentness — the thing that every human being on the planet is born with — I felt totally alive.
Following my bizarre fashion-induced epiphany I formulated the wish to empower as many individuals as possible to live and thrive as their unique selves in their everyday lives.
Although we are all born as limited editions of one, sadly, over time, as external influences grow, we tend to neglect this vital asset.
There are outside expectations and metrics regarding everything from appearance to career, happiness to success. Social, gender-specific and cultural norms throw all sorts of obstacles in our way. Fitting in looks like being an easier option — until we reach the painful conclusion that trying to be someone else is never going to fly. And why would we want it to when we already own a unique identity that no one can ever steal?
Two intensive years down the road, my book, Limited Edition of One, was published. I also created a related coaching and mentoring methodology focused on enabling individuals and organizations to tune in to what makes them immune to duplication. The purpose of these tools is two-fold. Firstly they are about encouraging and enabling people to recognize and own what makes them guaranteed limited editions of one. This builds the most amazing on-board portfolio of aptitudes, abilities, skills and ideas that is available exclusively to us, every single day of our lives. Secondly, immersing ourselves confidently in what makes us different is fertile ground for identifying and embracing the individuality of others and seeing the benefits that brings. Conversations on diversity are important to have; absorbing diversity seamlessly into our working and personal lives is how real progress is made.
How to train your uniqueness muscle
Spoiler alert. Training your uniqueness muscle isn’t as hard as it may sound. The key is ‘daily differentness’, the everyday stuff that differentiates us from everyone else. Zoom in on the detail. We all do different things, think different things and imagine different things, all of the time. Start to become aware of and capture the endless small examples of your intrinsic uniqueness in a journal or in your phone. You can use written or spoken words, or take some snapshots as reminders. Alternatively you can simply reflect on your observations in a meditation, on a walk, or over a coffee… With time (and practice) you will automatically be drawn to your precious differentiators and navigate your way serenely through the sea of sameness.
Here are some daily differentness warm up exercises:
What makes you who you really are?
What did you love doing as a kid and why? Do any aspects of your daily life now bring in elements of these activities? Think of a person you spent a lot of time with during your childhood. What did that relationship give you? Take a random possession in your hand. What would it say about you if it could talk? Choose an item of clothing you’re wearing right now and come up with a reason why it’s a limited edition of one, anything from the outline of a hole in it, to an occasion you wore it at in the past. Be aware of how you interact with people you come across today, in person, in writing, or on screen… What aspects of your character might this express?
What do you do that nobody else does?
What food did you like eating most as a kid? Be specific and bring to mind the person who normally made it, the packaging around it, where you ate it… Do you have any one-off ways of eating now, from unusual ingredient combinations, to the way you twist your fork when you eat spaghetti? What would be your perfect way of being woken up in the morning? What would you be doing at 3pm on your ideal day? What activities can make you forget time? Bring to mind a familiar place that evokes a specific feeling, anything from the hallway of your current home when you enter it, to a beautiful garden you pass on your dog walk. Describe that feeling. Take in the view from a window you look through today; it’s the film set of a moment of your life.
How do you take in the world around you?
Scan-read a small quantity of text, digital or printed. Which words stand out and what do they make you think of? Look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. Patterns on items you use or see regularly, a person making a heart-warming gesture of kindness, a face in tree bark… Choose one of your senses and make it the hero of the day. For instance, acknowledge all the smells you come across, or the sounds you hear and what your responses are. Look at a stranger, either physically or via an image. Give your imagination the freedom to invent the person behind the face. What are their likes and dislikes? What were they doing an hour before you became aware of them?
“Use it or lose it” applies to the uniqueness muscle too. Fortunately, using it has many rewards. Making our unique contributions to the situations and relationships we are part of are great sources of satisfaction and wellbeing. And if you find yourself tempted back into the sea of sameness every now and again, dip your toe in, remind yourself how it feels. Then draw these wise words from Oscar Wilde in the imaginary sand:
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
You may also enjoy reading Enoughness: A Journey of Self-Care and Self-Love, by Megan Hale