On Being Different

This isn’t like my usual posts, it’s a bit more personal. I hope you’ll indulge me.

Recently I took one of my daughters to the doctor. It was nothing serious, just an infection under her fingernails. The curious thing was that it wasn’t just one infected fingernail (which is quite common), or even two infected nails, but three.

This wasn’t because the infection had spread (it wasn’t that kind of infection) or because she’d done anything to cause it. It had just happened that way.

Once the doctor had checked that there wasn’t anything sinister behind the coincidence, she told my daughter “It’s ok. There’s nothing to worry about,” and then, with a smile, “You’re just weird”.

As a parent, my heart sank at this. How many children, on hearing that sort of statement from an authority figure like a doctor would have started to question themselves? To think “Am I weird? Is it bad that I’m different? Is there something odd about me?”

Then I looked at the expression on my little girl’s face. She was positively beaming.

To be honest, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this is a girl whose favourite T-shirt says “Be Different”. Backwards. I’ve brought up my children to embrace uniqueness, in themselves and in other people.

The torso of a young girl is shown, with arms outstretched. Behind her are plants and a muddy path. She's wearing a purple T-shirt which says 'Be Different', but with the letters reversed as if reflected in a mirror.

But here’s the punchline. I’m not as good at it as they are.

I thought of this the other day when I read an article by Brian Gardner called “Different… It’s Better Than Better“. The article really resonated with me, from the title, through a story about Jägermeister (almost certainly not what you’re expecting), to a message of being true to yourself in business as well as in person.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction of my business recently. This idea of authenticity chimes with several thoughts that I’ve had about what kind of developer I want to be and where I want my business to go.

I see so much advice telling me that “to be successful, you must do X and Y” and my heart often sinks, because I’m not the sort of person who does those things. I’m not a natural entrepreneur, I just love doing what I do. I don’t want multi-million pound contracts. I want interesting work and clients who are fun to work with. That’s my kind of success.

It’s taken me longer than it should’ve done to accept that it doesn’t matter a jot if I’m not following the established pattern for doing things. I just need to do what I do, and do it well. If I can deliver a great service for my clients, giving them what they need, there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t do it in my own way. In fact, as long as there are clients who like the way I do things (which there seem to be), it’s a positive advantage.

So here’s to being different!

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  1. says

    Please tell both of your daughters and yourself to never change, because you’re all just perfect as you are. As for your business, surely the fact that you’ve always got lots of work shows that you’re doing just fine. Why on earth would you need to change?

    • Alice Gardiner says

      You’re too kind [blush].
      Change is good. Staying still is a risky way to run a business, especially in a fast-moving world like web development! But I realise that I went through a phase of paying too much attention to “growth gurus”, and other people whose aims are different to mine, and not stopping to think about whether their advice was relevant to me.