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Living Atypically

“We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable. We are all taught to ‘be yourself.’ What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.” – Jeff Bezos, from his final letter to shareholders as CEO

That pulling at you bit is the trick, isn’t it? We all want to be integral in the lives of those who mean so much to us. We all want to be the glue that holds it all together. We all want to belong, somewhere deep down. And it feels like for that to happen you must be… consistent. Predictable. Who you’re supposed to be.

I don’t know what atypical means to Jeff Bezos. What’s the ask here? To work relentlessly for the company objectives and scratch and claw your way to the top, or something entirely different? The Amazon culture received plenty of bad press along the way. But doesn’t everything atypical? And Amazon is atypical, and in being so, culturally transformative. Bezos also said this in his letter:

“If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with.”

I can’t argue with this, can you? So what of us? As the world slowly opens up again, what are we to do with the freedom of movement? Will we return to what we once were, or gently alter course towards what we’ve always wanted to be? How are we creating value? For we’re more than individuals living our “best life”, we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.

“You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously.”

We have this wee bit of time, and then the dance is done. The challenge is to keep thinking bigger, adding more value and meaning in your life and for those around you. This in itself is atypical in a way, isn’t it? So many bury themselves in distraction and pettiness and mock outrage. Where’s the value in that? Get outside of yourself and go build something of substance from that burning vision you have.

I encourage you to read that shareholder letter. There’s a lot of boldness in there, and it’s clear that Bezos isn’t done yet. And neither should we be done. For there’s so much more to do. In our own unique way.

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