Don’t Change Who You ARE, Change Who You’re WITH

In the past few months, you’ve seen me write 3 pieces on Onlyness, answering these three questions

  1. What is Scary About Onlyness?
  2. What Does Support Look Like?
  3. What Does Deep Support Look Like?

These came as an assignment of sorts, from a professor-researcher-colleague, turned deep friend. We had been working on clarifying HER Onlyness, to inform what she would work on next. She had been asked to do many interesting and important things, all of which seemed equally great. But as we studied her history and experience, visions and hopes, we were able to filter out some and focus on what was the highest use of her gifts, her onlyness … to see what put her in a deeper connection to herself and the world. A few months later, after she had had a chance to act and then reflect on our conversations, she encouraged me to turn our personal conversation into answers by using these three questions.

I wrote each in the form of a personal real-life story, with the instructional bits intermingled. Here, I’ve pulled together the key lessons.

Why is Onlyness Scary? Not only do you have to figure out what YOU care about, then you have to walk away from those who want you to fit in rather than wanting you to be yourself. It’s scary because we fear that if someone sees our depths, you’ll be all ALONE. The truth is that when we allow ourselves to be with people who want us to be ourselves, we blossom into our fullest self. This is what it means to belong.
What does Support Look LIke Having someone see your Invisibles is harder than it looks. We’re unable to see for ourselves who we are. Not in full, anyways. It would be like asking a puzzle piece to self-describe. Or a diamond to see all of its own facets. Congruence between those around us helps us see our fuller selves. This is what it means to have “agency”, which is being in the right social context with those who can help us see ourselves, our onlyness.
What Does Deep Support Look Like? Deep support is being with those who can see beyond whatever role, job, or project you have at any moment, to see the throughline of you thru that role/job/project. Not what you’ve done and are doing, but who you are, and even who you are becoming. It is that someone who can really say “I believe in you” even as circumstances change. This deep support is what lets you take risks, and this is the precondition for any time of growth, both personal and business.


It’s counterintuitive but true: The path to one’s own originality is not taken alone.

Because human beings are social beings. Because of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: belonging is more fundamental than asserting one’s original idea.

That’s why onlyness is NOT just a new way of saying: You BE you!

Tapping Onlyness is not about standing OUT in a crowd; it’s about FINDING your crowd.  

Finding your people is how you INCUBATE an original idea AND how you GROW it to be powerful enough to dent the world.

First, Incubation.

A few years ago, a woman stood up after I gave a talk and shared how she helped her husband accomplish his greatest dream, by getting his music to the Moon. Literally. On a Nasa Shuttle. And she wanted his help with HER big idea; She asked, What could she change to make that happen. I told her, if the people around you keep shutting down your ideas, or ignoring them altogether…

Don’t change who you ARE. Change who you are WITH.

Now, I wasn’t suggesting she get divorced. Instead, I reminded her of the research. That if the 5 people closest to you stop smoking, you’re likely to. If they gain or lose weight, so will you. Ideas? …They work the same way. Who surrounds us affects us. SO, find your witness, your advocates, those people who get you, to incubate that nascent early idea.

The second reason to FIND your people: SCALE

For a long time, for millennia, getting big things done has REQUIRED having a place of power in organizations or in society. Today, connected people can do what once only large organizations could. (Which was the topic of my second book) This gives us new choices. Say you have a status-quo-changing idea; you might be able to bend the powers-that-be to do your will. But it’s just as likely that the Status Quo will squash, or even suffocate your lovely new idea. NOW, you can organize a cru around that idea, finding those who share its purpose or passion based on Onlyness. Instead of having to protect that idea, holding it tightly as your own, you can now share it so that many can pick it up as their own, to JOIN you to make IT into a new reality.

THIS second piece is why onlyness can now be game-changing, power-changing.

Despite how we talk about power, as in, he or she has power… my five years of research on onlyness has taught me this: Power is not simply personal, it’s profoundly social. And this insight is what comes thru in those three articles. And this clarity is what can shape what you do.  Create the SPACE – the SOCIAL constructs – for people (including yourself), to contribute from that distinct spot in the world where only they stand. That’s how original ideas get their due. That’s how you get to be all of you. And what allows each of us to be seen as ourselves.

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