Let the low-hanging fruit fall off the tree and rot.” ~ Austin Kleon
I stood with the others in a circle around the fire. I had a red, Solo cup in my right hand filled with keg beer and a cigarette between two fingers. I could see the joint being passed, and I had a plan.
When the joint came my way, I lifted my hand with the lit cigarette. “Still working on this.” The person to my right nodded, leaned forward, and passed it to the person on my left. No questions asked.
I was 14 years old and would have done almost anything to fit in—including taking up smoking cigarettes to avoid doing drugs at parties.
During my teen years, I crafted and refined my chameleon-esque persona, morphing and shifting depending upon the crowd I was in. I’d change everything from my vocabulary and tempo of my speech to developing a sudden interest in the football game everyone was flocking to on a beautiful Saturday morning. In cut-off shorts, I’d follow the throngs of Greeks wearing pearls and blue blazers to Kenan Stadium and eye with longing the shady spots under the trees, perfect for reading.
When I turned 20, I began calling bullshit.
While I would continue to be an Olympic pleaser well into my 30s, I began the slow process of painting with the colors that spoke to me, my heart. I began declining invitations to events, parties, and gatherings that held no interest to me. I rediscovered just how much I enjoyed solitude, quiet, reflection, and following the dance of my thoughts and quirky curiosity.
One day, home from college on summer break, I stood next to my dad behind the jewelry counter in his shop. A man walked in, and I recognized him and said good morning. My dad extended his hand and introduced himself. The man looked surprised, shook his hand, and introduced himself.
“Of course, Mr. So and So,” my dad smiled, a bit embarrassed. “Of course.”
When the man left, my dad looked at me. “That’s not the first time that has happened. I couldn’t pick him out of a crowd of one.”
“What do you mean?”
“There is absolutely nothing about him that is indelible to me. Nothing stands out that cements him into my experience.”
I understood. I also understood that in my desperate quest to fit in, I had been well on my way to becoming the same bland, forgettable person.
As entrepreneurs and creators, we can easily fall into a similar trap of following the market at the expense of our own voices and vision. We look over our shoulders—scroll through our screens—on a quest for our work… our companies… to be crafted from the same cloth as that of the majority, the “in” crowd.
And when we champion the ability to forget who we truly are, we feel the nauseating awareness of having made it while lying to ourselves. Somewhere buried in our subconscious, we know we are on borrowed time, and that the ghost of our essential self will come calling, huge bill in hand.
When we follow the hustle and noise, chasing what we think is our work and whom we should be, absolutely no one can hear or see us. All of our efforting falls into a cauldron of static, watery soup. How can the singular ingredient we (and only we) possess land on the palate of our market, exploding into flavor in the mouths of starving souls?
Let’s choose to make our own mark(et) without apology. Become a category of one.
When we step into our own River of Desire, we find the raw material for our creative voice and vision. We follow the butterfly that we find to be especially beautiful and interesting and bring it to light.
The water swirling around our ankles is our River and ours alone. If we want the ecstasy of true connection and resonance within and without, we first must know the water that comprises us.
From there, invite us to drink with cupped hands and delight in the quenching of a thirst we did not know we had.