15 Benefits Of Being An Intelligent Misfit | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement 15 Benefits Of Being An Intelligent Misfit | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement

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15 Benefits Of Being An Intelligent Misfit

“With the pride of the artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists with the small trumpet of your defiance.”

Norman Mailer (Pulitzer Prize Winner; The Executioner’s Song

“Conventional is not for me. I like things that are uniquely [me]. I like being different.”

Florence Griffith Joyner (4X Olympic Gold Medalist; Track & Field)

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”  

Mark Twain (Author; Tom Sawyer)


Fitting in brings out the worst in people.

I moved 3,000 miles away for college and it felt like a dumb decision from day one. All I had with me was whatever clothes I could carry in a few checked bags. The other kids had furniture, mini-fridges, stereo systems, TVs, and new iMacs – those big bulbous desktop ones that came in different colors like purple or pink. The college was pretty upscale like that and definitely full of a bunch of trust fund babies. At least I think they had trust funds. I didn’t ever see any with my own eyes but I did see dozens of Escalades parked around all the dorms.

The kids on the wrestling team didn’t have trust funds. Like me, they didn’t go around wearing blue blazers and driving 80K cars. But they did have computers. And they were clever. And mean. At least the cool ones were. I didn’t know how to be cool. I tried to be cool but I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was too poor and too jock to fit in with the trust fund babies and too nice and too nerd to fit in with the cool wrestlers. I felt like I didn’t belong. This made me pretty miserable but on the plus side got straight A’s. And I made varsity. I still didn’t fit in though, which was the most important thing.

I came back to college my 2nd year determined to fit in and started making some changes like signing up for my first credit card and buying my first cell phone. I bought some new clothes too and brand name hats that I could wear sideways. Now I could nod my designer dressed head at the rich kids from across the quad. Or I could call them on my sweet Nokia.

I also figured out how to be mean. Not overly aggressive, go-to-jail mean but subtle, clever mean – which made me cool. Or at least more cool than I was. I studied less and went to more parties and even moved into a suite with some of the other coolest mean kids. I started feeling like I belonged, and getting B’s and C’s in class, and losing lots of wrestling matches, like 10 in a row. But losing didn’t matter. Because I was cool.

How To Avoid Swarm-Think

Swarms don’t think; they react. Studies on groupthink, or herd mentality show that humans and other animals like fish, buffalo, and birds collectively respond to environmental changes with very low levels of cognition. Large groups are often led, not by the proactive choices of each individual, but by a large collection of dull responses.

That’s what fitting in does to you – it puts you in the middle of a large, dull blob that can only react to its environment. You might think that adding a bunch of really smart individuals to a group would correct this issue, but it doesn’t.

Research on leadership and decision-making found that adding more intelligent people to a group does not help the group achieve its goals any faster. For example, a group of 200 people will perform the same whether 10 or 100 of them are intelligent. Are there any benefits to fitting in?

15 Benefits Of Sticking Out

Trying to fit into a larger group does not benefit you or the group. Standing out is the only way to reach your fullest potential. And it’s the only way to help other people reach their full potential. You might think that fitting in will help you get ahead in life, but it’s just not true.

Connecting and fitting in are two different things. As counterintuitive as it might seem, trying to fit in will actually prevent you from authentically connecting with other people. Especially intelligent people. You’ll never be able to connect with high-level people if you don’t have a high-level sense of self.

The only way to differentiate yourself is to develop your identity. Your identity shouldn’t fit the mold of anyone or anything else. You should be different. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you isolate yourself or act like a jerk so no one wants to be around you. It means taking the time to figure out who you are, what you want, and how you want to live your life. It means finding your purpose.

Choose to stick out. If you do this right, you’ll reap a lot of rewards. Your friendships will be stronger, your paychecks will be bigger, and you’ll have greater life experiences. Here are 15 benefits you’ll enjoy by choosing to be a misfit.

1. Better Friendships

I’m not friends with a lot of the kids I went to college with anymore. Mostly because we were never really friends. We were fake friends. They only liked me when I acted like them.

When you choose to be yourself and stick out, you’ll attract friends who are like you. The real you. And you’ll be friends with them for life because you’ll like all of the same things and have all of the same goals.

Sure, I still find myself chasing someone else’s friendship every now and then. But then I’ll notice what I’m doing pretty quickly and stop. I’ll tell myself that there are 7 billion people on the planet – why chase a few just because they don’t like you?

2. Bigger Paychecks

It seems like everyone is calling themselves an entrepreneur these days. But in reality, only about 13% of the population is involved in a real startup. Yet, this population accounts for 74% of all millionaires.

In the book, No More Dreaded Mondays, Dan Miller discusses the breakdown of millionaires in America. Small business owners comprise 74% of all millionaires. Senior Executives, such as company CEOs and CFOs (people like Jack Welch) make up 10%. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals also make up 10%. Salespeople and consultants constitute a mere 5% and the remaining 1% belongs to stockbrokers, inventors, actors, directors, authors, songwriters, athletes, and lottery winners.

If you work really hard for someone else and do your best every day to fit in at the office you might be lucky enough to one day make a 6-figure salary. But if you have bigger dreams — if you ever want to make 7-figures or more, then you better stop doing what you’re told and start sticking out.

3. Faster Promotions

People who have enough self-confidence (see #13) to stand alone climb the corporate ladder faster.

In a study involving 242 MBA students, researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s Hass School of Business found that confidence, not talent, was a bigger predictor of career success.

Specifically, the study found that a component of confidence called self-efficacy, or a “do-it-myself attitude”, sets people apart from their lower performing peers. Self-efficacy is the belief that you are able to accomplish a particular goal on your own. For example, you think things like, “I can find a way to do this job” or “I can make this relationship work.”

4. More Customers

Fitting in is bad for business. The more you try to make your product like other people’s products, or the more you try to make a product for everyone, the less it will sell. You’ll have fewer customers because you’re product won’t offer anything different or new.

Misfit products are those that don’t fit into the mass market. They offer massive value but only to a few individuals. Your goal should be to dominate a tiny niche market and grow out. Don’t try to spread yourself out over every market and grow in. It doesn’t work.

The only way to own a niche market is to stand out from the rest of the market. This means creating misfit products and testing and iterating them until you find misfit buyers.

5. More Time

Time is money. But most people treat their time and money very differently. They put their money in a bank and guard it fiercely but freely give away their time to just about anyone.

Protect your time. Take five minutes right now to calculate what an hour of your time is worth. Start with how much you get paid per hour at your current job. Then add at least 10% on top of that. 10% is the bare minimum you should want to increase your income by this time next year.

Write down your number and keep it in mind whenever someone asks you to do something for them or whenever you feel like being lazy and watching trash TV for an hour. Is watching two Pawn Stars reruns worth $40? Is it even worth $20?

6. Increased Speed

Carrying around a bag full of obligations (see #11) and other people’s expectations (see #10) will slow you down and keep you from achieving your personal goals.

The more you stick out, the faster you’ll move and the more you’ll live (see #15).

7. Faster Adaptation

Misfits adapt and grow quickly while people in large groups move slowly over the nearest cliff.

Have you ever gone to a meeting with 10 or more people and tried to get anything done? It’s impossible. Swarm-think prevents any useful decisions from being made. And, even if a large meeting results in a good decision, the inertia of the group will prevent it from being carried out. Everything will keep moving in the same direction as before.

It’s simple physics. Newton’s First Law of Motion, or the Law of Inertia, says (in basic terms) that an object at rest will stay at rest, forever, as long as nothing pushes or pulls on it and an object in motion will stay in motion, traveling in a straight line, forever, until something pushes or pulls on it.

In other words, large objects keep doing whatever they were doing until forced to do otherwise. And the larger the object, or the larger the group, the more force necessary to make a change.

8. Clearer Thinking

Mob mentality is dangerous. From 1793 to 1794 a period known as the Reign of Terror occurred in France after the onset of the French Revolution where more than 40,000 executions occurred, most of them by guillotine. All of this was caused by a conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins. Conspiracy theories led to false accusations led to mass executions of anyone marked as a counterrevolutionary. People were beat in public, shot by firing squads, weighed down with cement and tossed from boats, and more.

In 1692 a couple of girls started having fits, diving under furniture, and contorting their bodies in pain. The children’s parents blamed this behavior on specific women, or “witches” in Salem. After a doctor confirmed that the girls were possessed, the women were classified as witches and town officials arrested them. More and more suspected witches were arrested based on stupid things like having a mole or blemish or keeping a bottle of medicine in their bathrooms. Altogether, 150 people were imprisoned, 25 were killed, including 19 who were hanged, 5 who died in prison, and one man who was crushed by heavy stones.

In both cases, the violence was driven by the dull and reactive thinking of a large group. Conforming activates the reward centers of our brains (see #9) which encourages us to fit in more. If left unchecked, this can be a deadly cycle.

9. Better Brainpower

Based on prior experience and patterns of response, the human brain predicts what will happen in a certain situation. If the actual outcome of the situation is different from what the brain predicted, an error occurs. This is called a prediction error. Prediction errors “teach” the brain how to respond better. The problem is that group opinions can initiate prediction errors in your brain, even when the opinions are wrong. And these false positives can confuse and de-energize your brain.

Brain imaging studies found that conflicts between the opinion of an individual and the opinion of a group initiate a long-term conforming response in the brain. This response is characterized by increased activity in the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that monitors behavioral outcomes, and the rostral cingulate zone, the part of the brain that anticipates rewards.

When you see a group of people behaving one way, your brain is going to try to conform. You can override this response but it takes a lot of energy to do so. The only way to prevent the response from happening altogether is to remove yourself from the group.

10. Increased Creativity

Research shows that incentives reduce intrinsic motivation and creativity. For example, people who are offered $100 to solve a word puzzle will take longer than people who are offered no money and solve it solely because they are interested. But cash isn’t the only incentive that hampers creativity.

Group approval is an incentive. And like other incentives, it will reduce your creativity. Creativity requires being novel, or doing something in a new and improved way. It’s impossible to create something that stands out while simultaneously trying to make it fit into what you think other people want.

Similar research shows that working in groups can cause individual creativity to suffer because each person will subconsciously ride on the efforts of the group as a whole.

The best way to keep your creative edge is to be a misfit. You should only ask for feedback once you have finished creating a draft on your own. And even then, listen selectively.

Don’t create out of a desire to please others and don’t rely on a group to help you be more creative.

11. Less Obligation

Obligation is the currency of fitting in. The only way to conform to a group is to become more obligated to it. This is based on the norm of reciprocity, which assumes that people in a group will respond favorably to each other by returning benefits for benefits, and will respond with either indifference or hostility to being harmed.

The more the group lets you in, the more you have to do for the group. On a long enough timeline, you’ll become so obligated to the group that refusing to give more will disrupt your biology. Studies show that inhibitory processing, or refusing to reciprocate, can result in increased heart rate variability and spastic prefrontal cortex activity.

Once you start fitting in, it can be really hard to get out. Misfits have more freedom because they aren’t being pulled in a thousand different directions trying to please everyone.

12. Less Depression

Conformists are secretly miserable. Several studies show that feeling pressured to fit into a group is a major risk factor for depression. The more pressure you feel to fit in, the more likely you are to become depressed.

13. More Self-Respect

Fitting in and self-respect are mutually exclusive.

Studies show that the more pressure someone feels to fit in, the less self-respect they have. These studies also show that the less self-respect someone has, the more pressure they feel to fit in. This cycle will continue to erode a person’s self-worth until they become completely depressed (see #12).

14. More Admiration

The more you fit in, the less you’re admired.

Fitting in might feel like the best way to get people to admire you, but it’s not. Fitting in only creates the illusion that other people admire you. They let you in. You let them in. No one rocks the boat. Everybody feels equal and happy. But no one is admired.

The only way to be admirable is to stand out. This means being a little aggressive and rebellious. Studies show that certain types of aggressive and rule-breaking behaviors are attractive. Other studies show that people rate defiant and surly loners as more admirable than their polite and group-oriented peers.

Don’t be afraid to rock the boat. People might look up to you for it and be inspired to stand out too.

15. Grander Experiences

The only way to live a full life is to constantly reinvent yourself.

The best times of my life have been when I’ve decided to leave one group, or close one chapter of my life. I used to feel really guilty about this. But then I realized that everything comes in seasons.

The only way to experience the next season, which is always bigger and brighter, is to close the door on the last season. This means having the confidence (see #3 and #13) to step away from the herd and go out on your own to try something new.

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You Comment, Isaiah Responds

  • James McCracken

    I’ve definitely noticed number 14. I’ve never really been one to try to fit in all that much. I think it goes back to feeling in high school like I was not fitting in and thinking to myself “well, since being fake clearly isn’t working out, I might as well just stop that and be what I want”. High school never changed, as it never does. In college and beyond, I’ve seen that the people I really want to like me, like me much more for being what I am, not for being jock, nerd, prep, or gear head.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Exactly James. It never changes, and the sooner you figure it out, the better. Unfortunately, some people never realize that and they fake it their entire life.

  • Clete Hanson

    #5 More Time….Wow I never really thought about it this way, I’m going to work calculating right now. Great Article Isaiah, really good insights here.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Thanks for engaging Clete.

  • Nicholas Ostrout PhD

    Nice post. #2 is an interesting statistic for sure!

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      I am glad you enjoyed it.

  • Matthew Hanson

    #13 (More Self Respect) is so true. I, like most people, have tried to fit in when I am in a new situation or around a new group of people. Every time I have done this, I notice my self respect diminishing down to nothing. It feels terrible. Being confident in myself and doing things my own way is crucial to my happiness.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Thanks for sharing that, I know exactly what you mean. The more you can be yourself, even if it’s not what other people are doing, the more happy you will end up.

  • Tc Imes

    Good stuff. #15 is a mantra that I’ve used in my life since my first years in college. If I had not reinvented myself several times throughout that time, I would still be doing beer bongs in an apt. that smells like whiskey and sour milk (and more than likely no college degrees). Instead, I chose not to live like my roommates (maybe being a misfit) and moving back home with mom and dad so I could get my priorities together and get closer to my goals each day.
    Like you, I have truly enjoyed the journey that change has brought.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Awesome story Tc, I have experienced this myself. Those roommates probably gave you a lot of grief for moving out and being responsible, but look where you are at now compared to them. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lindsey Surace MD

    I think #3 and #5 have been really helpful for me. I havent really figured out exactly how much my time is “worth” but I often try to reflect and make active decisions about what I am doing. Generally, before I turn the TV on, I ask myself if there is anything else I should be doing instead. Many times this leads to reading or taking a walk or even a nap instead of watching the brain-drain tv that can suck away so many hours. I also think stepping back and realizing that most of us can accomplish so much by dedicating enough time and brain power to a task is incredibly important. Just enough self confidence can go a very long way.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      You’re spot on about taking a step back and realizing all that you can achieve with the skills you have right now. Your time is valuable, so be confident in yourself and use it the best you can.

  • Matthew Donohoe

    #10 is great, in my opinion. Increased creativity. Being weird and not following the group will undoubtably make one more creative and more fun to be around. The guy who is always agreeing with everybody probably doesn’t have too many thoughts of his own. Plus, most of the best leaders are creative thinkers.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Great points Matthew. Yes Men are boring and do not add anything to a social situation. They are also terrible leaders. Stay weird.

  • Michael Smith

    Hi Isaiah. I really like your point, tucked away early in your article on the difference between connecting and fitting in. I think it’s easy to assume that if you ‘fit’ that you’ll have a connection with people. But as your nicely point out, the only way you’ll connect is by being ‘you’ and being authentic. For some people, that won’t resonate with them and you won’t feel that connection – but that’s ok. Far better to have something real!

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Exactly Michael. Lots of people fit in, but they go unnoticed. Connecting is about standing out and adding value.

  • Garett Manion, PharmD

    #1 (Better Friendships). When you have to change who you are in order for someone to be friends with you, it isn’t worth it. Be yourself, always. Good article.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Thanks for reading Garett.

  • Matt Giulianelli

    No doubt at all, I have enjoyed much better friendships by not fitting in. All the people I’m friends with don’t fit in either:) That is certainly not a coincidence, and having friends who are like-minded means more sharing of common experiences, pushing each other to constantly improve, and valuing each other’s time.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Great point Matt. If you look around at different groups of people, the individuals in each group will always have something in common. Trying to fit in to a group that isn’t like you, is pointless and will cause unneeded stress.

  • http://www.SabrinaBolin.com/ Sabrina

    Oh yessir I am, Isaiah – feeling like a misfit in the best of ways these days. I have experienced many of the above:

    Better Friendships – for sure. More authentic across the board.
    Increased Creativity – when I’m not looking at everyone else’s “stuff,” my own offerings are so much more unique.
    Grander Experiences – yes. yes. yes. Being willing to close chapters and write new ones in life has made my journey completely worthwhile.

  • Nic Price

    Great post Isaiah. I Think fitting in is something everyone naturally tries to do. That makes me wonder how many people are who they truely are or who would they be today? Number five is really cool to think about. Is what I’m doing worth my time? It’s a kick in the rear that was much needed!

  • Ioana

    I really enjoyed reading this Isaiah. I think it takes time for people to realize that it’s ok to stand out without feeling guilty. When that happens, everything you mentioned can take place. Obviously there is a time and place for every first bold move or standing out, but like you mentioned that is the only time when you can be your true self and attract or keep the type of friends/entourage/clients/etc. that will help you reach or support your true potential.

  • d7ana

    My favorites are #5 more time, #8 clearer thinking, #11 less obligation, and #13 more self-respect. I don’t lose myself by giving most of my free time to others. I think clearer solo because in some groups, the agitation from conforming hinders my ability to think straight. Less obligation and more self-respect tie in together for me: I don’t feel weighed down by the sense of social debt and I feel proud that I “can hold my own.”

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

      Great points, thanks for engaging. I completely agree that less obligation and more self-respect go hand in hand. Being able to say “no” to others is powerful. Check out this article for even more on self-respect: http://isaiahhankel.com/self-respect

      I release a new article every week, and you can stay informed by subscribing to my blog here: http://isaiahhankel.com/getmore

  • LeShann

    I also feel that being a misfit gives you extra drive and desire to do things and prove the world your worth. I had the “chance” to be a misfit for most of my childhood – it was very tough at times, being the guy people would make fun or poke constantly. I didn’t leave puberty and the small town I was living in with a lot of friends. But overall it gave me a sense of drive and purpose, a chance to realize that this cannot destroy me, and that there are more important things in life than trying to please everyone. I’m not the most successful person on Earth, but I’ve done pretty well for myself, and the one thing I know people value me for now is my opinion and advice.

  • Iris B. with Ümlaut

    As a high IQ/EQ woman (the proverbial misfit) – I let my ‘freak flag’ fly rather happily these days … but I think the peace of mind, of being such a misfit, only comes with a certain age and self-acceptance … and enough self-love… it IS very different for women with ‘a brain’ … (sorry guys, but it’s true) … for I feel much more ousted in my peer group then ‘high IQ men’ I come across. So mindful, authentic connections (no matter what IQ) are precious gifts to me (however far and few between). I lead myself … I don’t need leadership … I feel I am blessed that I can think so freely and that I have absolute clarity of my ‘Self’ … not many can experience that and the world around them like this … so your points #5 #7 #13 really resonate with me … and regardless of the price a woman like me pays ‘in normal society’ (and there is a price) … I stopped craving or reaching for ‘normal’ a long time ago and enjoy knowing that being ME is imperfectly/perfect … and that there will be no end to exploring my potential and learning … wohooo! What an adventure! 🙂