About five years ago I attended a party that a friend was throwing in celebration of her new clothing store launch in downtown Los Angeles.
I spotted the host off to one side and walked over to say hello. As I approached, she looked around, then behind me.
“Did you come alone?” She asked in a high pitched voice, the end of the sentence curling up into an extra-squiggly question mark. “Yep,” I cheerfully replied, holding up a pair of neon-yellow drop crotch trousers to my waist. She grinned. “You’re such a lone wolf! I love it.” She touched my arm in a way that maybe she thought to be conspiratorial before turning to walk away.
I get it, I’m independent. I live alone and traverse social circles fluidly, dipping in and out of various groups while enjoying time spent alone immensely. Still, her comment stuck because the tenderest part of me felt like a misfit for being this way, an outsider even — as though by being independent I was somehow doing something wrong both socially and in life.
I began paying closer attention to those around me who I considered to be independent. I looked for cues and commonalities in both their actions and in the traits they expressed. I noticed that some of them are misfits in the most admirable (and even lovable) of ways, and that those traits can translate to big moves in business.
Misfits can be brutally honest, for example they say things like “Great story, thanks for sharing.” They yawn loudly at dinner. They are masters of the chat and cut.
What I discovered was a treasure trove of traits that make a certain type of independent person unique, uncompromising, and at times terrifically entertaining.
I also found that some highly productive and creative people — including many successful business founders and leaders —are all misfits in their own way and share some of the following traits.
Misfits think beyond their perceived set of limitations. They take big risks because they understand that the long term reward outweighs any immediate risk. Some misfits live for the possibilities — they proactively seek opportunities and double down where they think they can win. This is sometimes effectuated to set an example, and other times pursued for personal gain.
I once met a very successful female entrepreneur in a line to board a bus at a wellness retreat. We got to talking and as we boarded, she casually said something to me about her business that I’ll never forget. “I’m not going to do that, it’ll hurt my soul.” In that moment I had laughed, but secretly I was also relieved. I respected her ability to unabashedly voice her concerns — it made her relatable and human, and gave me permission to think about adopting a similar philosophy to my own life.
While their actions don’t always seem logical, over time they might become crystal clear. In business I’ve noticed that many misfits are often relentless in asking for what they want. They are also unafraid of rejection and will be persistent enough to keep asking — or find another way — until they get what they want. A friend of mine is a band manager. Every time we go somewhere together she manages to find a way to get in the door, behind the rope, onto the stage, and into the after party. When I asked her what her secret was she simply winked and said “You have to find a way to weave your web around them.”
Independent people tend to be focused on their own priorities. At work, they look for the end goal and do whatever it takes to get there. At one former job, my boss at the time knew that in order for us to land a critical new business partner our odds were greater if we met with the decision-makers in person. We scored a meeting, and before I knew it we were boarding a plane from San Francisco to New York where the winter storm season was at its worst. We pulled an all-nighter polishing up our presentation for a twenty minute meeting with someone who had zero vested interest in our company. There was no guarantee of a favorable outcome, but my boss had demonstrated the importance of doing whatever was necessary in order to take the opportunity as far as it could go.
For many misfits, there simply are no rules. Rules can be seen as a distraction and their actions often reflect this. I once had a colleague who came barreling into the office at seven in the morning each day and left at four in the afternoon. She knew that those were the hours in which she was most productive, so that’s when she showed up and left for work. It took someone boldly breaking the rules to demonstrate how efficiencies could be made.
I once worked for a very successful entertainment executive who was a sought-after speaker. Often times he’d bring a squirt gun to an event with him and shoot water at speakers who started to sell their company rather than speak to the topic at hand. (He also had an electric cattle prod in his office that was given to him as a gift, and subsequently my desk was zapped a couple of times but that’s for another story.) I know many executives who surf, skateboard, or deep-sea scuba dive. Many have large personalities or distinctive character traits that aligns them on a level to any central character from a Wes Anderson film.
Misfits are important to business and society because they’re unafraid to carve their own path, which is necessary in business for making considerable progress and change. It can be lonely at times to be an independent person, but in other ways can be extremely beneficial. When we march to the beat of our own drum, we follow the paths available only to us. This leads towards alignment with our goals and personal definition of success — even if at times we need to show up alone.
Originally published at medium.com