Loving parents go to great lengths to praise and protect their children. We want our kids to understand that their distinguishing characteristics (be they physical, behavioral, or cognitive) are what make them unique and special. We embrace all of their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and are ready to turn on a dime to defend them against anyone who judges them for those sweet and original aspects, be they nuanced or obtuse, that make them who they are.
But once they step out of the nest and into the real world, they are on their own in terms of their ability to have influence and agency. So, if a prospective employer, coach, mate, or guru determines that certain characteristics of an individual’s personality or capabilities aren’t sufficient for their needs, that individual is faced with certain choices.
They can take steps in an attempt to modify their skills and abilities, after which they might “re-apply” for whatever relationship they are seeking. Or, they might choose to ignore the input from prospects and continue to search for other relationship possibilities.
But in the end, a person must ultimately decide between “who they are” and “who they can become” in order to have the social, business, athletic, spiritual, etc., relationships they want to have in life. There are folks who tend to feel like they are giving up some (or a lot) of who they are in order to forge the adult-style relationships required to have a certain quality of life. Others understand that rather than giving up part of their identity, they are actually enriching themselves, and in turn becoming something greater and more satisfyingly complex than they once were.
The former are making a perfectly valid choice in foregrounding their existing idiosyncrasies while shunning any additional social capabilities. These are the things that made our parents love us, made our friends laugh, and made our mates choose us over all others. These are the things that we can claim as truly our own, and they are what give us our sense of personal identity, as well as our identities in the smaller, earlier stages of life. The latter understand the risk of becoming homogenized, and instead firmly embrace their past selves as they mature and extend their own skills and capabilities based on what the world needs from them, rather than what they need from the world.
Those of us who design and develop (and test and market and sell and install and support software) should think about which of these two tendencies we tend to gravitate toward. Are our personal philosophies of work geared toward the question “what do I need from the world?” or “what does the world need from me?”
And how does our alignment with one or the other of these two questions impact our effectiveness and value within the organizations where we work? Do we, like the parent of a young child, defend our offspring’s awkward nuances and difficult idiosyncrasies even long after they have left the nest to find their place in the larger world? Or, do we give our children the tools and techniques and guidance to extend and enhance who they are (and who they can and will become) over time so that they have limitless possibilities in life?