5 Signs You’re a Misfit (and Why That’s a Good Thing!)

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Are you secretly afraid you’re a misfit? Do you worry your ideas are out of step? Or do you pride yourself on pushing the envelope?

Does it even matter?

Depending on what we mean by “misfit,” it can matter a lot. In fact, one of the most popular misfit callouts – one that went viral at the time – went like this:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

It’s the quote from Apple’s Think Different ad campaign from 1997.


This ad captured the spirit of misfits everywhere, and it did so in two powerful ways: (1) by celebrating innovators and problem solvers around the world; and (2) by inspiring hope in anyone who’d ever questioned or challenged business as usual.

What Misfits Do



Fast forward to 2015 where we’re likely to swap the terms innovator or entrepreneur for misfit or rebel. Yet it’s that misfit aspect – the countercultural, boundary pushing, systems challenging behavior – that Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips chose to discuss in their book, The Misfit Economy. Every misfit they interviewed – from gang leader to pirate to botanist to inventor – did one or more of the following:

  1. Created opportunities, made something out of nothing, improvised, worked with constraints, took action.
  2. Built on other’s ideas or work. Transformed, reinvented, customized, localized, or globalized.
  3. Gained deep knowledge of an established system, in order to disrupt, rethink, or reinvent it.
  4. Shook up the status quo, took a stand, challenged what had always been done, imagined alternatives, or encouraged dissent.
  5. Pursued a new path and stepped into the unknown.

Learning to be a Misfit

We need more misfits. We need more people who hold a different perspective. And with all the ways technology can connect us to information and people, we’re better positioned than ever to “change the world.”

But that means we need to practice these skills, model them, and yes, teach them. Here are some ways to start developing a misfit mindset:

Hustle: Make something out of nothing: (1) share an idea or resource in a blog post; (2) tweet a powerful quote or idea; (3) post useful or inspiring photos or images online; (4) learn how to use a new piece of software; (5) draft a TED Talk; or (6) teach someone something they want to learn.

Copy: Build on what others have done. Choose a piece of art or writing or music or software. Copy it (attribute, of course). Then customize that copy for yourself. Then customize that copy for a particular group of people.

Hack: Reinvent something that’s established. Take a specific problem, idea, or challenge in a particular field, ideally something that’s driving you crazy. What solution do you want? Give yourself five minutes to answer the following questions: What are three steps to take to get the solution started? What are the next three steps? Who could help?

Provoke: Take a stand and shake up the status quo. What is one aspect of your life that strikes you as unexamined – an expectation you have, a way of doing something or interacting with someone? How might you challenge or rethink your approach? How might you share what you’ve learned and maybe inspire someone else to do the same?

Pivot: Step into the unknown and pursue a new path. Read something you don’t normally read. Try a different kind of food. Take a different route to work or home. Try a new hobby. If you feel doubtful or afraid, know that your feelings are normal.

These activities are the starter kit. You may already be further along. Either way, let me know how it’s going. There’s never been a better time to be a misfit!

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