We all want to be considered exceptional, stellar, and unique. It is our desire to be seen as different, avant garde and ahead of the curve. However, being a true exception to the rule is never easy and may require a lot of patience, sacrifice and fortitude to overcome the challenges that come with the position. In many cases you must show that your talents or circumstances are unique and that your life, goals or effort matters more than the rule. Because of the unique quality of the predicament people may shy away from or condemn you because they cannot relate to your reality. Don’t lose hope! The value of an exceptional person is measured by the plight of their story and the richness of their far out ideas. People will come around once they understand or comprehend that drives and motivates you to keep on trekking is beneficial to the world.
At the Women of Color conference I met a lot of exceptions to the rule. There were women who came from poverty and/or escaped war torn countries. Several had to fight misogyny and prejudice to earn and keep scholarships during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Many recounted how they had to prove everyone wrong, including their families and peers, to be recognized and promoted in acedemia and their current STEM field. I was amazed at how women, and minorities have struggled to become educated and pioneers in their respective areas of research and development, their stories now surfacing as we attempt to reach a healthy balance between diversity and inclusive in the workforce.
If you have a chance, check out the book and movie called Hidden Figures. It was heavily featured during the conference and features Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as the trio of Black Women who coded for the first NASA space missions enabling the astronauts to reach the moon. These ladies eventually earned world renown due to their mathematical, science and engineering prowess even though many of us had never heard or seen them sharing the spotlight. At the time, they were exceptions in a society that devalued women’s intellect and the black race’s worth. They exemplify the courage and will power ir takes to defy the standards attributed to your gender and to rise in an environment that shuns your participation because of your gender.
To me, what makes us at one point or another exceptions to the rule, is our need to dare to to what others may find taboo or impossible. Once upon a time taking a breastfeeding pump into an office space was unheard of and could cost you your job. Now, thanks to the enterprising spirit of the corporate women of the 80s, we have Mother’s Rooms or safe spaces to pump and work in peace. Regardless of how you feel about the LGBTQIA community, we are starting to see bathrooms as the unisex entities that they are and to stop fearing the lovely people who chose to identify with the gender that better suits their pursuits and state of mind. During the Vietnam War, the high incidence of maiming resulted in a need to redo the way we addressed physical disabilities and mobility access to welcome back our heroes. The ramp on the sidewalk we take for granted was made possible by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Everyone has a right to live in peace, protected by the constitution, and it is up to us to learn to embrace the exceptions to the rule to make progress as a society.
Not all exceptions to the rule are good but make sure you don’t lose your identity and peace of mind trying to conform to a society that would be better served by your uniqueness. In many ways having an iPhone X or a car, heck even an education, doesn’t make you feel like the exception to the rule because those items are so common but, statistically speaking, you are part of the top 2% of the world’s population that enjoys these commodities. The other 98% of the planet doesn’t have all this plus the liberties of a stable democratic government. Think about it for a second. Just because you were born stateside you are already ahead of the game. You are already exceptional.
If you have the intestinal fortitude treat everyone as if they are extraordinary. Don’t assume the hooded kid is out to mischief, or use to determine the type of safety threat underneath. When you see a human being harrassed don’t assume they deserve it or that someone else will help them. Clear your unconscious bias and replace them with factual conclusions and opinions. Become more knowledgeable about the rules and its exceptions. Embrace and effect change.
Dare to build something better…