The two common beliefs when talking about life principles is that either they are absolute or they are relative.
I’d like to suggest that most principles that are true also have opposites that are true. More often than not, they’re two sides of the same coin. Being successful has never been about fitting in with a crowd, but about standing out. Standing out in ways where you’re doing things so extreme that the people around you don’t fully understand you, if at all. It’s about doing things that are so extreme and different that no one else is doing in order to create opportunities that no one else will have.
Throughout history, the most successful and well-known individuals have always been people with extreme strengths as well as extreme weaknesses. It’s the extreme traits, not the fact that they did everything by the book, that they made something noteworthy. All the famous inventors, scientists, philosophers, revolutionaries, and entrepreneurs had someone try to talk them out of it at some point.
But on the contrary, life isn’t usually very enjoyable when things are taken to the extreme. Blending in is easier, more comfortable, and less resistant to making friends with the people around you. The entrepreneur that tries to fit in with a crowd isn’t going to get much further than everyone else in the crowd, even though they may have a better social life. Being surrounded by like-minded people is powerful, but yet limiting. And having a powerful mentor can be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
While both of these are deeply valid points, they exist in contradiction to each other. It’s hard to distinguish when you should do something despite what an expert says, and when you should listen to what they say as a mentor figure. It’s hard to know when to stand out and when to blend in, and when to persevere or pivot.
The challenge of the entrepreneur isn’t in the risk, but understanding when to take which extreme in order to build a company that truly matters.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of young, ambitious millennials at the Thiel Summit in downtown Vegas. In the midst of Peter Thiel talking about finding something to believe in that few people would agree with, I found many of my peers trying to fit in with what people around them were doing. Many of the summiters weren’t taking the message as a challenge to find the unique truth to hold onto, but trying to integrate themselves into a growing community of people who believe similar things from an entrepreneurial standpoint.
Whenever I find that too many people believe the same thing that I do, I take the time to reconsider what I really believe.
I don’t do this to purposely stir up controversy (although I used to), but to identify the nuances that make what I believe in uniquely different than what most other people believe. I like to explore the extremes in order to see how far I can stretch my perspective and understanding in order to better identify how to think about things.
In fact, I find that sometimes doing the exact opposite of conventional wisdom gets you closer to your goals than following the conventional wisdom.