Discovering the benefits of being an outsider equals a quantum leap in personal development.
Being an Outsider is Scary for most People – For a Reason
It is a quantum leap because it is counterintuitive and against our psychological need to belong. Being an outsider is by no means a place toward we naturally gravitate.
Evolution hardwired our brains to stay and thrive with the tribe as a strategy for survival. This neuronal basis still influences our behavior in today’s world. In reality, our survival does not depend on communal protection from the sabertooth tiger and hostile nature anymore.
Psychology has elaborated on how important the sense of belonging is for our development as healthy individuals, especially in our early days. As grown-ups, we have a choice on our position in society, which above all is a choice of perspective. Realizing the benefits of being an outsider also is a quantum leap because it comes with the power to look at the world in a whole new way.
But as being an outsider is against our human nature, it evokes fear. Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft masterfully use the dread of the outsider in their writing. The outsider is a symbol of horror and the unknown in the works with the same name.
King and Lovecraft express the extreme connotation of what the outside can feel like to us. Albert Camus’ existentialist novel The Outsider describes the hero Meursault as a stranger to societies customs. ‘He does not play the game’ Camus later said. That makes one prone to the scorn of others and burdens the outsider with the freedom of choice.
And yes, the list of books and movies carrying the title Outsider is long. Which makes sense as the topic of belonging is so fundamental to the human condition.
Social Theory Points to the Special Role of the Outsider
The sociologist Georg Simmel introduced the notion of the ‘Stranger‘ as a unique sociological category. (I have to note that Simmel differentiates the stranger from the ‘outsider’ who has no specific relation to a group. I assume both as synonymous here because of their functional parallels).
Simmel suggests that strangers often assume unique roles because of their particular positions in the group. In the past, for example, most strangers were involved in trade activities connecting different societies. And because strangers live at a distance to the mainstream members of a group or community, they are also competent arbitrators or judges.
The implications are clear: If you are on the outside, you can connect between different groups, and you can see what others cannot see.
The Benefits of Being an Outsider Come from a New Perspective
The visionary philosopher and media theorist Marshall McLuhan writes ‘The poet, the artist, the sleuth – whoever sharpens our perception tends to be antisocial; rarely ‘well-adjusted,’ he cannot go along with currents and trends. A strange bond often exists between antisocial types in their power to see environments as they really are.’
Many of us follow the flow of our society. Go along with the standard script portrayed by the media and our peers. The saying, ‘Doing what everybody does is getting what everybody gets,’ aptly expresses the dilemma of conformity. Playing along is comfortable. But can it provide us with a deeper understanding of what is going on in the world? Can it provide us with extraordinary results in human growth and or in business? Probably not. We have to step outside our known environment, Leap into the unknown. That is scary. But it is the quantum leap we have to take to become ultimately human and realize our potential.
Let’s think about it with a parable from David Foster Wallace. Two little fish are swimming in the water, and a big fish says to them ‘Good morning boys, how’s the water?’ They swim away, and after a few minutes one of the little fish says to the other ‘What the heck is water?’
Marshall McLuhan puts it like this ‘We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.’
Just like a fish in water, we have a hard time seeing through our social reality.
The Benefits of Being an Outsider Apply in Multiple Areas
The benefits of being an outsider and the secret of an alternative perspective works in multiple contexts. An alternative view works as a stranger in a foreign country. It works as an outsider in an industry where you see the opportunity for disruption. And it also works the newcomer in a company you were hired to change.
Being an outsider allows developing a perspective that insiders don’t have. The outsider operates with an observer perspective from which it is easier to be objective. There are no favors to pay back or social alliances to follow.
As such, from the outsider’s perspective, you can question the status quo with a fresh perspective on old problems and discover opportunities this way.
In business, an outsider is more likely to unveil contrarian positions that are potentially very lucrative.
Make Being and Outsider Your Vantage Point
Some people are natural outsiders, and they are likely to have experienced ostracization in their lives. So for them, it’s coming to grips with their natural disposition and accept it as perfectly valid. The easy way to do that is by realizing that being an outsider comes with numerous benefits. And then enjoy them over the alleged fault in character.
The task for sociable extroverts is to understand and practice the benefits of the outside perspective. You might have to learn to ignore your ego, which might be screaming at you in pain. The benefits speak for themselves. Choosing to live switched on makes it necessary not to go along with the crowd and to cultivate an observer’s perspective.
Once you become the natural tendency to resist the benefits of being an outsider become evident: You can see through the rules and belives of society and choose your path instead. And as for the sense of belonging, you can share a much deeper connection with another outsider, then people in the crowd commonly do.