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Reinventing yourself: Conforming without  sacrificing individuality

I don’t advocate blindly going against the wisdom of those who have trodden before us, but I do challenge you to make sure it fits who you are before implementation. Success, however it is defined, is only worth as much as the effort and drive that you put into it.

I’ve always been a rebel. When my grandfather told me I’d never be successful with long hair, I grew it longer. When the church told me to dig deep and give more, I gave less. I think I just never liked being told what to do. It’s probably the single biggest reason I became self-employed.

There’s nothing wrong with being a non-conformist, but you do have to be careful how and what you are rebelling against. Being a selective rebel will ruffle the feathers of many around you, but it can certainly help you find the success you deserve for the hard work poured into your craft.

We typically attribute rebellion as a youthful indiscretion. Just examine your own life. There’s not one of us who doesn’t regret rebellious decisions and behavior from our past. When you’re young, you don’t have the experience or knowledge on how the system works, which often leads to poor decision-making. However, just because someone rebels does not mean it’s because they’re without understanding. You can’t tell the rebel how to perform. To his way of thinking, that’s like being a marionette performing at the will of the puppet master.

A defining moment

The word rebellion has a fairly harsh definition, which makes us associate it with bad behavior: The action or process of resisting authority or convention. The perception is negative because the authority that is being resisted wants to have unconditional conformity from the rebel. If the authority or conventional wisdom that is being rebelled against is sound and good (we must always ask ourselves by whose definition), then rebellion is bad. If that same authority is bad, then the rebellion is both good and lauded for its behavior.

For instance, I have an employee that always presses me. Although his intention is for the good of the company, we often butt heads because of his nature to rebel (fortunately I’m the same way, so it’s easier to understand that his behavior is benign). Although he doesn’t have near the experience that lies under my belt, he is still not shy about suggesting different ways of doing things. As the classic old curmudgeon, my first response is to often shut down his idea (because after all, he doesn’t have the experience that I possess). However, I’ve learned that the opposite is often true. Because he is in the beginning of his career and has not yet been immersed in the work (or brainwashed by conventional trade wisdom), his perspective is fresh and quite often better than what the “mean” has led me to do for years.

As we get older the tendency is to get into a groove (a nice way of saying rut) that helps us to minimize conflict and disruption. It’s not all bad. After all, the very reason we tend towards this behavior is because experience is our mentor that is constantly leading us to do things easier and with fewer problems. However, the downside is that without friction the blade gets dull. You need to be constantly challenged in order to stay on top of your game.

Look at how quickly technology is changing the way we do things. Although we’re in a dinosaur business and the actual art of woodworking principles remains the same, the technique and business practice is radically changing. Most of you would probably laugh at yourself if you still practiced your craft the way you did 15 years ago. Change is good, staying open to new ideas is good, and rebellion is good.

Without a clue

At 24, I developed a wild hair that forever changed the course of my life. Running a small business in Colorado that wasn’t doing well led me to believe a change of scenery was necessary. I paved the path for my young wife and I to sell our house, pack up the shop and start over in Tucson, Arizona.

Why Tucson? I really don’t know. All I did know is that I was tired of the cold and figured if I was going to mix things up, a radical move to Mars would be a good way to jumpstart a new beginning.

Never having been to the desert and not knowing a single soul, we arrived in a 24’ truck loaded with tools and personal belongings. It was at that moment I started to wonder if I had made a mistake. Determined not to fail, I pressed on. Perhaps there could have even been an easier way to achieve my goals, but there is one undeniable certainty that resulted in my initial decision to go against accepted convention and the advice of my elders. My success or failure could not be attributed to anyone else.

I don’t advocate blindly going against the wisdom of those who have trodden before us, but I do challenge you to make sure it fits who you are before implementation. Success, however it is defined, is only worth as much as the effort and drive that you put into it.

In order to embrace new technology, new hires or a changing market, you must decide how they fit into your style of doing things. Remain open to change. Like my rebel employee boldly voicing his opinion, you may be pleasantly surprised by the new opportunities to further your craft.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that logic only applies when you’re ready to cash in your chips. Know who you are and stick to your convictions. You are the only one who can ultimately define success, not outside influences. Therefore, use convention when it suits your goals, and be a rebel to maintain your drive.

David Getts

David Getts

David Getts is a certified kitchen designer and owner of David Getts Designer Builder Inc. in Seattle.

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.

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