When I was young, teachers would call me a rebel. And I thought, “I’m a little girl…who’s a little different.” They were overreacting. I did take some pride in being a little different however. But I also behaved well and got good grades. And I’ve seen my old report cards, I always got a (+) on “plays well with others.” For their own convenience, they wanted me to be a little more predictable and conformist.
I can remember the first time I heard the word non-conformist. It was a good day. It was a day when, secretly, I knew what I was. There was a name for it, and I knew I was not the only one. People used the word “rebel” but I knew that wasn’t me.
Rebel may seem like a synonym for non-conformist, but it is not. A rebel has a cause, leads a movement – whether a large one, like Harvey Milk, or a smaller playground “movement.”
I can remember a time, for instance when, in 6th grade, I circulated a petition for signatures of students and teachers, asking the principal for the right for girls to wear pants to school. I cited recess as a problem if the girls liked the jungle gym or the bars; and winter as another issue – too cold for just tights (which I think we called leotards, though we meant just heavy-duty stockings.) So maybe I’m a bit of a rebel, once in a while.
But here’s the difference I want to make. A rebel likely feels outrage and/or anger and presses an agenda. A non-conformist just wants the right to do things as they see fit. A non-conformist may dabble in rebellion, but then likely go back to quietly expressing herself as she chooses.
I remember sewing an outfit (as we did in our family) for the first day of school that was very exciting to wear. It was shorts and a shirt made of brown cotton with a white boomerang print, and a pair of brown suede ankle boots. (Think 1970’s – two tone lace up boots.) I wish I had a picture of these boots, bec in the lingo of the day, they turned me on.
I was very happy walking to the bus, in this fabulous outfit I’d designed around those groovy boots. When I got to the top of the hill, and saw my classmates’ outfits, I could see I had erred. My outfit was going to be outlandish. Somehow, this hadn’t occurred to me (or anyone in my family?) earlier. For many kids, this would have been traumatic and the beginning of a very different life lesson. For me, it took me a minute to adjust my expectations to reality, but then I was okay with it. I still loved wearing my creation. I loved telling people about making it, picking a fabric to match the boots, and for wearing brown. Brown felt very grown-up at the time.
There are people who do things that draw attention to themselves – whether it’s how they dress, how they think and talk about things, or how the behave. Some non-conformists who come to mind for me are Maya Angelou, George Bernard Shaw, Simone de Beauvoir and Salvador Dali, Tiny Tim, Madonna,
And then their are rebels – Martin Luther King, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Among Jungian archetype assessments, I come up as Rebel or Outlaw. Those both seem to me to be a non-conformist with an axe to grind. But if the shoe doesn’t fit…
Many of us writers are non-conformists, and will even rise up in rebellion occasionally – like in a letter to the editor, or scathing parody, or even a particular petition – but we’re often more of a prod than a pull. Unlike Harvey Milk, I’m NOT here to recruit you. I’m glad you’re out there, but I’m good over here, just being me. Expressing myself in my blog, and in my books and articles. Most days I like my outfits, even if I see no one all day.
I am, however, happy to recruit you into my coaching practice. Non-conformists need help that doesn’t try to reshape them in the process. Let’s find out how you do you, best, and then make your plan together.