I shudder to think about all the emotional energy I expended during those dreadful episodes of choosing sides for a baseball or football game after school. Never athletic and almost completely lacking in “the killer instinct” I was kryptonite for the unlucky team captain who got stuck with me. It didn’t take many years of that Lord of the Flies humiliation to train me to believe that choosing sides for baseball was reality…that this is what life would be like forever.
I was wrong.
True, there is much of life that involves these kinds of brutal selections and the resulting loss and exclusion. That will never change. What can change is our compulsion to put ourselves into those meat grinders knowing that sausage is the ultimate byproduct. Yet every day, designers stand in line to be excluded, humiliated and ignored. My experience may be like yours. You just thought this was how it was supposed to be.
Even in the 5th grade there were other options. To a 12 year old boy, those options may not have seemed remotely desirable, but we are no longer 12 years old. Anyone can stand in line, and most everyone does. But we are grown ups now, and standing in line is not only not required, it’s not smart. The next time an RFP comes to your attention, remember those days on the playground and give some serious thought to finding another game to play. Even better, make up your own and invite a few friends to join you. If the odds of being selected over the competition are not heavily stacked in your favor, there is an excellent chance they ARE stacked in the favor of someone else. Don’t waste your time, your money, or more important, your emotional energy.
I am fully convinced that our best clients are trying to find us and our unique skills and abilities, but they can’t because we are standing in line on the wrong playground. There is nothing simple about discovering what is unique and special and marketable about us. The resistance to “standing out” or “being different” is powerful. When I invite, cajole and beg my clients to recognize and accept why they ARE different, their resistance is powerful. We just aren’t wired that way. There was a time when standing out from the crowd was a good way to get an arrow through the throat or be banished from the tribe. Believe me, from one wise coward to another, I’ve spent most of my life keeping my head down. And I have the scars (and terminations) to prove that rejecting the status-quo can be costly when you dare to raise it.
What I have finally realized is the subtle but important difference between rejecting the group, and claiming your own identity. I have finally come to understand that there are so many other ways I want to invest my time and energy. That doesn’t make the pick-up baseball, or responding to RFPs wrong. It just means they are wrong for me.
Are they wrong for you, too?