The school I went to in England used to proudly display their famous alumni in black and white photos circling the theatre lobby. From John le Carré, to John Cleese, the list included notable actors, top politicians and accomplished actors. What the school didn’t tell admiring visitors though, is that the vast majority of those famous alumni had been expelled. They were misfits, and the system couldn’t cater to them.
In Ken Robinson’s TED talk about education and creativity, he mentions the story of Gillian Lynne.
When she was at school, Gillian was often disruptive and couldn’t sit still. The school wrote to her parents, and said she had a learning disorder. So her mother took her to this specialist to explore treatment options.
After this doctor had talked to her mother for twenty minutes, while Gillian sat patiently sitting on her hands, he told her to wait while he went outside to talk privately with her mother. As he left, he turned on the radio sitting on his desk.
When the pair were outside, the doctor turns to Gillian’s mother and says: ‘watch her’. For as soon as they had left, the little girl was up and moving to the music. They watched for a few minutes, and eventually the doctor turned to her mother and said: “Mrs Lynne, your daughter isn’t sick, she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”.
Her mother followed the doctor’s advice, and Gillian flourished. She became a ballerina, a choreographer and was responsible for producing some of the greatest shows of our time, such as Cats and the Phantom of the Opera. A different doctor might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.
By definition, the system isn’t set up to cater to misfits. While I am by no means comparable to those famous alumni on my school wall, I am also a misfit. Misfits don’t blend into the artificial world of enforced hierarchies, such as those in high school, and are often happier forging their own paths. By the time I was seventeen, I had already dropped out of two schools and decided enough was enough. The system wasn’t for me. I packed up my bags and moved to London. I knew what I was passionate about, and I wasn’t afraid to admit it. I wanted to spend the rest of my life programming.
Chris Sacca recently gave the commencement speech to a crowd of newly graduated students. He talked about being a misfit, about standing out and embracing what you really are. As he says, your GPA only matters to people who can’t find any other reason to find you interesting.
The most important piece of advice I can give you on the path to happiness, is not just be yourself, but be your weird self. It takes too much energy to be other than your weird self. We spend so much of our lives living up to the expectations of others.
It’s our collection of screw ups, stories and idiosyncrasies, that make us weird and interesting. Weirdness is why we adore our friends. Weirdness is what binds us to our colleagues. Weirdness is what sets us apart and gets us hired. Be your unapologetic weird selves.
So here’s to the misfits, the rebels and troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change the world.