Most of us long to make a dent in the universe, to leave a world that’s different and better than the one we were born into.

Short of being a some singular giant like Steve Jobs, or Nelson Mandela, however, the only way until recently that we could pursue this goal consciously and systematically has been by joining an institution – a company, the military, the government, or the church – and rising in its ranks until we acquired sufficient power to bend it to our purposes. The only problem: by the time we get the power, assuming we get it at all, we’ve probably lost the fire. Or bought into the status quo.

The Internet has eliminated many barriers of geography, cost, and time. Today, connected people can now do what once only large organizations could. Networks are the new companies, the new way to get things done. While it hasn’t changed all power or given you a blank permission slip of access to get things done, it’s certainly made more things possible, to anyone.

Yes, there are still too many biases that get in the way of who gets access to capital. And not enough people asking themselves about their own bias, thus often not seeing those who are “different”. And of course, sometimes we can each get in our own way — seeing ourselves as less-than powerful based on what someone else believes.

To buy into a story of yourself that is anything less-than takes away the one thing you have, your onlyness. Each of us stands in a place that only you stand in. It is a function of your history and experiences, hopes and visions. It is all the ‘good’ stuff and even the ‘dark’ because even that which has hurt you is something that can be a fuel for what you do next. In celebrating your onlyness, you accept that the path you will take is not yet unclear, the story of what happens yet unwritten. And then you start out — this is your life’s work to create it, to decide how you will make a difference, and then to do so.

So, in case you need it, here’s a potential theme song of Onlyness: Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield:

(Thanks to Saul Singer who sent it to me just this morning. I met him when I was presenting to the leaders of the military in Bogota* in November, 2013; we both presented on innovation in these modern times. His book, by the way, is called Start-up Nation — it has been really well received.)

*Imagine presenting to hundreds of military officers of the Army and Navy, all in their full regalia of metal pins, epaulettes, and pressed uniforms. It was one of the few times I wanted to be an early adopter of Google Glass so I could have inconspicuously taken a picture to share with all of you.

1 Reply

  1. Great post. I agree completely. Keep up the great work Nilofer. I have been outside the mainstream my whole life. Because I’m not a 20-something living in Silicon Valley I have seen this my whole life. Here’s to the leveling of the playing field. (I share many of my experiences as an outsider and entrepreneur at http://www.jamesgreaves.com)

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