A well-intentioned co-worker took me aside as I prepared for a promotional exam, placed his hand on my shoulder and asked, “What’s your deal?”
In return I offered a puzzled look as the conversation stumbled awkwardly down a familiar path.
He continued, “You need to tone it down. People are saying you're a bit over the top. If you want to get promoted, you need to disappear."
I stiffened inside as I listened to his words. What was wrong with me that doing things my way went against what was socially graceful, safe, or right? It was the part of myself that I despised, but I had always seemed unable, or unwilling, to change it. What had made me such a misfit, living my life with my head lowered, so dead-set on testing limits, permanently at odds with the world around me? Why was I forever pushing upwind, uphill, and upstream?
I began to consider what I was being asked to do. Was I wrong? Was it me? I realized then that I was being asked to compromise what I felt was right, to realign my true north, and my heels dug in once again as they had from the moment I was born. I was being asked to do what was easy as opposed to what I knew was right. It wasn't me, quit had never been in my vocabulary, but fight and adaptation were always part of my life. History has proven that wars are won by those who are students of battle stories, those who press on despite the best efforts of those who try to hold them back.
A wide, satisfied grin spread across my face.
Wait a minute, I'm not sorry.
I will not disappear. I won't be put in a box.
A big part of what it means to lead is having the courage to disobey. The path of most resistance is where the biggest change occurs.
I not so subtly rolled my eyes and my inner monologue went something like this, "Here we go again..."
I had heard it all of my life, so I took a deep breath, counted to five and let the words permeate.
I offered an even, biting retort. "Good. That's the point. I'm fired up. I love this job and I'm not sorry about it. No apologies, no excuses. Not then, not now, not ever. Excuses are useless to me, my friends don't need them, and nobody else will believe them. I will strive to be at my best everyday. For me, it’s not about appeasing the masses. It's about improved performance. My job is to make my crew as safe and effective as we can possibly be. It's not about checking boxes. I'll let my crew's performance do the talking. What's your deal?"
If you have no ideas then you can't be a nuisance. A big part of what it means to lead is having the courage to disobey, not in a sophomorish revolt against the establishment for the sake of conflict, but because you feel that there is a better way to be found through independent thought, innovation, communication, and teamwork.
The path of most resistance is where the biggest change occurs. Are you going to do what's easy or what's right?
No, thanks. I'm not going out quietly.
Don't like it? Tough.