How to Discourage Unconventional

------- Note:  This post originally appeared in an earlier effort, what I now consider a "draft" blog (The ModBlogger), which I no longer maintain. I am migrating those initial blog posts, including this one, to Tracking Breakthroughs because I'd like them kept somewhere. And maybe someone will find them of use.

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At the age of questioning, my 12 year old daughter V announced suddenly just before getting into bed one night that she had tried wearing two different shoes at school that day. And she liked it. And maybe she would do it again tomorrow.

Snapping the covers down to invite her into the cotton sheets, I’m sorry to say that I responded in a crisp one-two: “Well, that sounds kind of lame to me.”  And then I remembered I needed something from my room and left for a moment while she climbed into bed.

Except she didn’t.

When I returned, her eyes were dark as she looked up at me from the floor, holding one teal and one black sneaker.

“How could you,” she said, “Be. So. Normal.”

I was the one, she said, who had a vision the other day. Remember?

I did remember. That morning I sat behind the wheel of my car in my sweat shirt and slippers. I balanced my cup of coffee in one hand and I waited 10 cars deep in the usual line near the elementary school as parents in suits or sweats (depending on their day jobs) converged to get their kids to school.

And as I told V, a somewhat overweight woman wearing a navy blue t-shirt and jeans crossed at the crosswalk. Suddenly in my mind’s eye she was bouncing - yes bouncing - from curb to curb in a floppy, many-jewel colored top hat, polka dot scarf, a knee length velvet purple coat and bright patent pink boots!

The image was delightful, and I thought, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the people at this intersection - and beyond - chose to dress in dizzy multi-textured technicolor as a matter of form?

And then I looked down at my own drab hues. What if instead of pulling from our closets each day our blues and blacks and greys (sweats and jeans or suit coats and trousers), what if we all dressed in zany joy?  That woman back in her over sized navy t-shirt looking down at the ground? Joy and color would be so much more becoming--and so much more fun.

Now, I looked down at my daughter.

“Thanks for shooting me down,” she finished. I actually try not to be normal.”

Ouch.

She was right--sort of. What she meant by “normal” was “like everyone else,” someone who accepts the status quo and falls in line. My practical mom-wisdom spoke out (I’m pretty sure healthy feet require similar insoles), but I didn’t consider that V was actually just questioning conventions. Why should people wear matching shoes?

Questioning conventions is powerful and important. I know that. In fact, in this globalized, digitized, connected world, success and even survival may depend upon it. As Seth Godin says in his book, Linchpin:

What we want, what we need, what we must have are indispensable human beings. We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care. We need marketers who can lead, salespeople able to risk making a human connection, passionate change makers willing to be shunned if is necessary for them to make a point...Some organizations haven’t realized this yet, or haven’t articulated it, but we need artists.  Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection or a new way of getting things done.

It’s important to note that we all have this capacity to find a new way. As Seth says a few pages later: “I’ve never met someone who had no art in them, though it’s buried sometimes.” (Buried by well meaning parents? Yikes!)

I thought about it and realized I had been wrong--sort of.

So I apologized.

And I explained and Valerie came to understand that wearing two mismatched shoes might damage her feet.

But she decided that she’d be on the lookout for other conventions that should be changed. And a polka dot scarf for me.