When You Don’t Fit a Pigeonhole

posted in: Discovery, Musing | 0

Things tend to be designed for people who fit a common pattern. If you fit one of the well recognized patterns, life is simpler than if you don’t.

When you are blessed with an unusual pattern of above-average skills, it’s hard to find a satisfying job. My brother and I have such profiles, although very differently. My skills have two high peaks that are seldom found together. He has five or six across quite a spread. Most jobs are designed so that people who can do them are readily found and hired. The jobs need a small number of peak talents that are closely related.

Put someone into a job that only uses part of what they are especially good at, and the job feels less than satisfying. For someone with an unusual mix of talents, it’s hard to find a job that will need all their strengths.

There are solutions to this, but the solutions make life more complicated—they involve such things as running a business or doing a lot of volunteer work that uses the skills the job doesn’t use.

As you may have guessed, I don’t fit pigeonholes very well. When I fill out tax forms for the USA, I am endlessly frustrated by their insistence that my UK home address should be in a USA format with a USA-style zip code. I don’t have a tidy, easy to recognize job title, which boggles people and institutions (especially banks). I can work with technology and business processes, but I also love to write.

This morning I had a maddening phone call with British Airways asking how to fill in their Advanced Passenger Information. It’s designed for people who are a citizen of one country. I wanted to know how a dual citizen should fill it in. They kept telling me to call the USA embassy and the UK government because they cannot advise me about passports and visas.

I kept asking what they will do with this personal data they will collect in their computers, but they would not tell me with which governments they will share the data. After much head-banging, I got them to understand that no embassy or government can answer the question of what BA will do with data they collect in their computers. Only BA can answer that, and eventually they did.

For me, life is full of such little aggravations because I don’t fit a mold.

So… if not fitting into pigeonholes causes so many complications in life, why not just shrug off the edges that don’t fit and settle into a nice little cubbyhole?

Because the world needs both kinds of people, each doing what suits them best.

There is nothing wrong with fitting into norms. It’s easier, less stressful, but productive. It’s absolutely essential to keep society and the economy going.

But we also need some people who don’t fit the norms. Not too many such people—just enough. Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Grace Hopper, Elon Musk, for a few outstanding names most people should recognize… in every generation, there are a few who try something different. That’s where exploration and invention come from.

Only a select handful can be the best. I’m not in the same league with the ones I named here, but I’ve done a share of helping to expand boundaries, my little bit.

Not fitting into pigeonholes can be a badge of honor. Just do the best you can with your unusual mix of talents and apply your talents toward good purposes. Yes, not fitting a mold will put some extra aggravations in your way. But the satisfaction you can find in what you achieve can make it all worthwhile.

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