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OK, so you know that part in Back to the Future when Marty McFly gets on stage during the Enchantment Under the Sea dance? He straps on a guitar and starts playing so that his teenaged parents will dance, kiss, fall in love, and ensure that he eventually gets born.
Well, one of my favorite moments of that scene is when he loses himself for a few minutes in a crazy electric guitar riff of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode.
All the 1950s teens stop dancing and just stare at him, mouths slightly agape, before he comes to his senses and realizes they have never heard anyone play a guitar like that.
Marty awkwardly gets up and mumbles, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”
The joke lands because we, the audience, know how popular rock n’ roll will become. But to a 1950s teenager, Marty just looks sort of insane.
I love this vignette because it’s EXACTLY what happens to anybody who lives in a world that, in some way or another, isn’t ready for them — they’re misunderstood, labeled “crazy,” ostracized, and made to feel “wrong.”
HERE’S THE DEAL WITH HUMANITY, AND IT AIN’T PRETTY
We fear and dismiss what we don’t understand (and what we can’t control).
Why do you think so many people (ahem, women) got labeled witches and were burned at the stake? For having the audacity to, what, think for themselves? Contradict a man? Experience lust? Nuh uh. That’s WAY too advanced for a puritanical society to handle. They’ve gotta go.
Humans are wired to fear the unknown. It’s an impulse that keeps us safe, biologically speaking.
Which is why people and ideas that are new and different are often met with violence and vitriol — the idea may seem innocuous, but the unknown nature of it triggers a deep fear that makes some people react as if they and their way of life have been personally threatened.
Maybe you won’t get burned at the stake anymore, but the knee-jerk impulse for people to shut down things that are new and different is still alive and well.
IT OFTEN SHOWS UP AS REJECTION AND DISMISSAL
Take, for example, Vincent Van Gogh. I’m almost positive that you, like I, did your own rendition of Starry Night at some point in elementary school. Maybe your mom still has it in a dusty box in the basement.
But Van Gogh was not successful during his life. He produced about 1,800 pieces and sold one, maybe two, before he died. In the years before he took his own life at the age of 37, he struggled with mental illness (which is why he sliced part of his ear off) and lived in a state of poverty.
He was undoubtedly an artistic genius, but no one appreciated that about him until long after he was gone.
Jane Austen fits the bill, too. She wrote books that, for her time, were incredibly progressive and feminist.
We take for granted now that women with no money didn’t just turn down offers of marriage from incredibly wealthy, handsome men. But her characters did. She wrote women with a sense of autonomy and agency that would have ruffled the feathers of a lot of her contemporaries.
So, naturally, her stories weren’t all that popular during her lifetime.
Not only that, but Jane never got married. That fact always struck me as poignant and ironic — the woman who’s known for writing incredible romances, and who created one of the most beloved fictional men of all time, Fitzwilliam Darcy, never found her own Mr. Darcy.
But it also makes perfect sense. She didn’t yet live in a world where marriage could offer her the same agency that her characters enjoyed. So she chose not to settle. (I wonder if Jane would have had more luck today … honestly, I think she’d have been horrified by Tinder.)
THIS IS HAPPENING TO YOU, TOO, AS WE SPEAK
You may not be the next Van Gogh or Austen, or even Marty McFly, but I bet a lot of you are ahead of your time and just don’t quite realize it yet.
I was talking to one of my clients, Kendall, about this the other day. She was feeling dejected and guilty because she couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with her.
She told me, “Why am I always trying to get out of things? I never want to stay at work from 9-5 if I don’t have to. I’m always trying to work from home, or bail from unnecessary meetings, or question how things are done. I feel like I’m forever trying to game the system. Why can’t I stop?? It feels dishonest.”
I instantly recognized this for what it was, and set the record straight. I told Kendall, and now I’m going to tell you:
There is nothing wrong with you. You’re not broken. You’re not dishonest. You’re not weird.
You’re just living according to rules that don’t exist yet.
Just because the working world is structured in a 9-5, 40-hour-per-week way doesn’t mean it should be.
In fact, I think the way Kendall wants to work is how the world will operate in the near future — people will have way more flexibility and autonomy. You’ll be trusted to get your work done without being micromanaged. There will be a general understanding that employees are more productive when they can integrate their work with their life in a way that suits their needs.
Kendall is more right than the people around her, but she’d been acting like she was the “wrong” one because she was the only one with the gift of foresight.
BEING AHEAD OF YOUR TIME IS LONELY
It’s easy to assume that you’re the crazy one when everyone around you subscribes to the same basic beliefs.
But that’s one of the hallmarks of being ahead of your time — you’re often the only person you know who thinks the way you do, asks questions the way you do, and chafes against norms in the way you do.
Personally, I have felt alone in SO many ways my entire life. And it can hurt like hell.
When I tentatively started telling people that, at the tender age of 23, I wanted to become a certified life coach and start my own business, I got a lot of pushback and befuddled questions from the people around me.
I had plenty of people scoff and tell me, to my face, that it was stupid and would never work.
And you know what? It would have been VERY understandable if I’d given up at that point. The fear of being rejected, misunderstood, and ostracized is something we’re biologically wired to avoid at all costs.
Thankfully I’m also incredibly stubborn and a bit of a know-it-all, so the pushback only fueled my hate-fire.
It didn’t matter that no one else could see where I was going. I saw, and that was enough.
And, by the way, I was right. (Haters gonna hate, after all.)
So, I hope this blog will serve as a loving kick in the pants for you, the person who may be feeling weird, lonely, broken, or “wrong” for seeing the world differently than the people around you.
Might I suggest that maybe, just maybe, you’re actually seeing it as it will be, or as it should be, rather than as it is?
And maybe you’re just so far ahead that you mistook that for being behind.
How is this landing with you? Are you ahead of your time in some way? Come share with me, in the comments.
IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE THIS E-BOOK…
Rachel (& Kristen)