2 min read

Be OK being misunderstood

Be OK being misunderstood
Photo by Brad Knight / Unsplash

I attended our high school year reunion (10 years!).

It magnified my chronic problem of answering two simple questions: What do you do? And what have you been up to?

I’m currently Research Director, managing global operations, of a New York-based tech startup called OnFrontiers. Before that, I did competitive freestyle wrestling, worked for Coins.ph (blockchain-based mobile wallet), worked remotely at SoHelpful (early stage SaaS app), did independent consulting. I also did a speaking tour, speaking at MIT, NYU, UChicago, and 10+ universities across North America.

Thus far, I suppose I have led an interesting life and achieved a modicum of success. My work is online and I can and do travel while working. I love the work I do, as well the people I work with. I’ve competed and won in national powerlifting and freestyle wrestling competitions. My savings recently exceeded 1 million pesos. I suppose that makes me a millionaire.

When people ask how, I’m very happy to discuss the stories, choices, and people that led to this life.

The real question, of course, is how can they do it too?

All sorts of obstacles come up: They don’t know the people who would open the doors for them. They’re not disciplined enough. They don’t know what to do. These reasons are valid and specific to each person.

But when I reflect on the one thing that keeps them from leading an interesting life they want to lead, it is this:

The fear of losing prestige.

For example, when people ask me about work, they realize I graduated university 6 years ago, and I’ve worked for 4 companies, including 1 year of independent consulting. I averaged 1 year per company.

And do they become more interested and ask more detailed, tactical questions? No. Their eyes glaze over. The attitude changes from curiosity and even awe… To disapproval. They become uncomfortable and change the topic.

Of course, that stings. For one moment, it makes me question my life and decisions. If I were optimizing for public approval, I would’ve worked for P&G and stayed there forever. The problem is, by definition, what is easily understood = normal. I don’t want a normal life. In fact, I want an abnormal one. And I guess, so do these people.

I’m not saying everyone should copy me or that my way is the best. But I also realize, more than connections, ideas, will, or a willingness to work hard, what enabled me to do what I’ve done so far is this:

I’m OK being misunderstood.

To be sure, it doesn’t come easily nor naturally. I don’t go looking for ways to be misunderstood. But I’m OK with it.

Not being OK with it… I think this is what keeps otherwise smart, hardworking people from getting what they want. They can’t suspend their fear of losing prestige. They’re not OK being misunderstood.

It seems so obvious, that if you want to be successful, you must be willing to do the things others won’t do, in order to have the things others won’t have. I’m sure it’s been shared to death on Facebook.

Perhaps Marcus Aurelius said it best, “You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves.”