The worth of being an Outlier

Wanting to belong is an ingrained human need. We all want to belong but unfortunately, society is vast with various groups presenting distinctions which only serve to divide us. Today’s video talks about the difference between outsiders and a new group known as outliers.

The other day I had a conversation with Yolanda Lee who opened my eyes to a very important distinction that up until this point I think I had been circling around but hadn’t been able to see.

In our conversation, she introduced to me something called the outlier syndrome. I believe this is something that she came up with on her own so I want to make sure all credit goes to her.

Today I would love to discuss some of the evolving distinctions that have shown up for me around outsiders versus outliers and Yolanda really got the ball rolling on that. I would like to just toss in one more distinction there which is an insider.

So consider these three terms:

  • Insider
  • Outsider
  • Outlier

I am bringing up all these within the context of diversity and inclusion because I have never been interested in participating in those kinds of conversations.

This has continued all throughout my professional life and I think that there is something that has become clearer as I look at the distinctions between outsiders and outliers.

So let’s dive into the definitions:

Insider

This is someone who really belongs to the majority of the group. It’s almost like they know the words in the clique’s language. They have the information and they get the benefits so on and so forth.

Outsider

This is someone who is clearly on the outside of the group. When I say clearly I don’t mean that facetiously, I mean that when you look at a group of people you can clearly see who’s on the inside and who’s not. The outsider has distinguishing features from the insiders of a particular clique even from a third-person perspective. These make it very clear what side someone is on.

Yolanda and I were talking about this and one of the things she brought up was that as an outsider you also have very high barriers to entry might even be impossible for you to ever become an insider.

I’ll use myself as an example here, as a black male; I will always be on the outside when it comes to white culture or being a white male. This is something you can see from a far, let’s just say that it is a particularly high barrier to entry. So those are typically the outsiders: a sense of identity or way of looking at a group of people from a third party vantage point and clearly distinguish what makes those people different from the majority.

Outlier

This is someone who can be described as one who feels as though they’re on the outside but to other people looking in they’re on the inside. I’ll give an example with myself: I had a career as an actuary and I also worked in tech and when I was in both of those fields I totally felt like I was on the inside.

Regardless of what I felt like, I was also reminded that in the entire industry only two to three percent of all people in that field were African-Americans. So I was an insider but at the same time I felt like an outsider and to others looking in, it might have seemed as though I was clearly on the inside.

The Woes of the Outlier

This is something that really resonated with me because quite frankly I think more than anything else I consider myself an outlier.

I’m now in Singapore where I am probably in the 0.2 – 0.3% of the population and at the same time, I have consistently found ways to be amongst the insiders in various ways.

I think when it comes to inclusion there’s a place that just feels off about it all because it feels as though it is centered around: how can we identify you as an outsider? What are the markers that make you an outsider in this group etc?

A Sence of not Belonging

I experienced while going to support women’s events and I have had other experiences trying to be a part of the group or event and not really knowing where my place is and then being told where my place is that’s the worst part.

Right now what I am interested in focusing my time, efforts and energy is in helping to elevate that conversation and give us a space to look at it from the place of the outlier. Honestly I feel that every single one of us is an outlier in some regard, every single one has something where they can contribute far more than the rest of their peers or the rest of the insiders.

From my own life experience and also with the people that I coach what I have seen is that as outliers because we’re still a part of the inside tribe in a sense there’s a pressure to conform. There’s a pressure to not outshine, to not really show that you’re an outlier because if you show too much that you are an outlier then you might actually escape the inside crowd and become a full-fledged outsider.

If you have been an outlier you know that you are outside of the inside group but you’re also outside of the outsiders, so neither really has a place that’s right for you.

The Importance of Outliers in Society

I realized that the work I do, my belief around creating world joy is really around allowing every single person to own their outlier status and bring that out in certain ways. Now I don’t need it to be just because I’m an outlier everyone else needs to be an outlier. I have a strong belief that we all have something very unique that we can contribute to our world whether it’s in our workplace or in our families.

It is my belief that if more outliers are able to show their colors and still remain in the data set we have an opportunity to elevate or to move forward the rest of the group. It’s from that perspective that I want to make sure that I’m at least calling out the difference between an outsider and an outlier.

If we can create space for those outliers to really be able to shine, succeed and to be able to bring in the unique contributions that an outlier has, well then those outliers can then go off and create more space. This would make it easier for the people who feel on the outside to realize that they aren’t alone as well and that there’s also a path there.

My Message to you

My hypothesis is that there are:

  • Insiders who would love to play their game as an outlier
  • Outsiders who love to remain as they are and also be on the inside
  • Outliers like me who have been in various situations where they are one of the few who would love to be able to bring in more of their own unique self in order to elevate the inside group

I am looking to elevate the conversation to a place where in any given situation regardless of who you are with you can feel that your unique contributions are actually not just included but are valued.

I’d love to hear your feedback on some of your challenges, the things in here that seem like new insights or maybe places where you’re like: “Nemo this is just not even true”.

I don’t actually think that the efforts going forth to help Outsiders gain more status are misplaced, however, I do not think they are comprehensive. They aren’t yet at a place that can create an inclusive environment all throughout the process not just at the end result. We need to model what that looks like in our current world right now so that it can go forth and be scaled and brought into new lights at a larger level.

Engage me in the comments below and let’s see what comes up from the conversation.

Here is to your next frontier…journey on.

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