As a business owner, I try very hard to toe the proverbial line. I work diligently to find the ‘middle ground’ in nearly everything I do so as not to upset anyone. Over the last few weeks, the need to speak on a particular topic has been growing. As of this morning, the need has turned into a requirement.
Nearly fresh out of college, I went to work for one of the largest companies in the world. Bright-eyed, high-energy, and full of vigor, I was genuinely ready to take on any task no matter how insignificant. Hired in as part of a group of recent college grads, I was extremely hopeful I would be able to establish strong professional connections.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This particular company had a specific employee in charge or college recruiting. This individual appeared to give preference to their alma mater, as well as one other university. (Later, I would find out this other university was the alma mater of the CEO at that time.) My perception that I was ‘one of eight’ individuals quickly devolved. The reality became ‘ I am the one outsider amongst three graduates from one university and four graduates from another’.
The Outsider Turned Outcast
Welcome to being ‘Odd Man Out’. The next eighteen months of what started out as an incredible opportunity quickly devolved into my being ostracized from my peers as I had no foundation in which to build any kind of relationship. Needless to say, my peers didn’t have a desire to let me into their group either. My ideas were consistently minimized. My accomplishments were often stolen by others who could leverage the opportunity.
At the end of the eighteen months, I was unceremoniously transferred halfway across the country. I was told I was being given “an excellent short-term opportunity” to be a leader at an up and coming daughter business. “Short-term” became twenty-four months before I left the company, all while being told by my Chief Information Officer that I was “burning a bridge” for leaving the organization. Based on how I was treated, I felt strongly the bridge had been set ablaze by management and my peers as soon as I departed headquarters.
Now, some twenty years later, hindsight is certainly 20/20. No pun intended.
In the situation I lived through, little could have been done to address the issues of the moment. Nor could I have known in advance the situation I was walking in to. The company was stable and reputable, the opportunity superb, and seemingly the potential upside was endless.
Therefore, I’m thankful I have been able to glean from these difficult moments a valuable lesson that has guided me for years to come.
The Detrimental Power of Familiarity
Sweeping Generalization: We all feel our best when with familiar people in comfortable surroundings.
As a society, we strive towards this ideal we refer to as ‘comfort’. We wish to “be comfortable” as we discuss what may be considered the critical aspects of our lives – our living situation, our spouse, our children, our savings, our retirement. While it is a genuine achievement to reach these levels of life accomplishment, are we perhaps a bit too complacent with how we use ‘comfort’ throughout our lives?
How often do we go to places where we are uncomfortable? How often do have difficult conversations with the people in our lives? When was the last time we made an effort to reach out to someone we know is having difficulty in life? When was the last time we approached someone radically different from ourselves and tried to engage in constructive conversation?
The answer? More than likely – rarely.
I don’t disagree we must be safe in how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives. We must be prudent in protecting what we work hard to produce so that we may reap as much benefit as possible. However, is there not a difference between ‘protection’ and ‘understanding’?
Embrace the Difference to Find the Change
People are all different, insomuch as none of us have had exactly the same life experience. Yes, it is easier to relate to people who have had similar experiences. Yes, we need people in our lives who have similar experiences so that we can work through the many aspects of life.
That said, too many people miss the opposing viewpoint. Embrace the people around you who have vastly different life perspectives in order to add to your own. Whether the difference is gender, race, sexuality, religion, politics, or any of a myriad of differences we share, it is of the utmost importance we embrace alternative perspectives. If we were to spend as much time getting to know our neighbor (read: someone we know but holds different perspectives) as we did posting on Facebook or Twitter, think how much more we might enrich our lives.
In business, I have always found the best ideas come from a diversity of thought and opinion. Never simply surround yourself with ‘Yes People’. Demand to be in the company of people who will genuinely disagree for the sake of the better. Take time to listen as well as speak. When you do listen, do not do so just to rebut what is being said. Listen to understand and ask thoughtful questions about what is being proposed.
We are at the precipice of new generations in politics, thought, technology, and beyond. Our opinions should be founded on inclusion, seeing the world beyond only that which our own eyes are able to observe.