The herd mentality is pervasive throughout our culture. Researchers discovered that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realizing it. We find safety in numbers. When we belong to a group, this makes us feel warm, safe, and content. Having a sense of belonging is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s how we build community and connection. However, when we succumb to a programmed, unconscious way of existing, we sacrifice individuality in favor of comfort. This showed up for me in my career in a profound way.
In my mid-twenties, I moved to NYC after grad school to start my career in corporate but the 9-5 thing quickly ran its course. Looking out of my office window down to the street below and seeing the tiny hoards of people during the height of rush hour make their way to work. The same way they had done previously the day before and the day before that. I had become one of them. I was part of the herd. I realized that the corporate cubicle life wasn’t for me. So while most of my peers worked traditional jobs and climbed the corporate ladder, I had the nutty idea to leave the pack and start my own business.
Herding in our careers
I am always fascinated by how we choose our career path. But what I found is that we oftentimes choose our professions by default, not intention. We fall into a career because someone told us we should get into it or it just seemed like a good idea. An example of this could be following our parent’s advice to become a lawyer or go into finance because it’s stable and lucrative. Good advice but can become problematic down the line if you don’t truly love the work.
I believe one of the ultimate acts of leaving the herd is: the decision to stop following and lead.
Three things will happen when you decide to break away from the herd and how to handle it:
1. Isolation. Leaving the herd can be a lonely place. Seek community immediately! Join groups of likeminded people who value thinking differently and freely. You can find them in meetup groups, within your community, shared spaces like co working offices, and events.
2. Odd looks. Be ready for awkward conversations and puzzled looks from your friends & family. You may even get naysayers that challenge you or try to tell you it’s a bad idea. This is normal. People fear those who leave the pack but secretly they yearn to do the same. Be the example. Sometimes your decision to be bold inspires other to do the same.
3. Temptation to return to the heard. It’s hard to walk to the beat of your own drum and dance when no body else hears the music. Resist the urge to go back to your comfort zone. Only you get to decide if herd life is for you or being the bold, daring black sheep.
Leading as the black sheep
The choice to be different is just that, a choice. If you’re someone who challenges convention and loathes conformity, you just might be a black sheep. Embrace it and do not hide. Our differences are what make us come alive. Being the black sheep is taking the lead for your own life, knowing what is best for you and acting on that knowledge unapologetically. Naturally, you will have those who you will inspire so being a black sheep is not just about you, but those you impact. Leaving the herd can be costly, but worth the price of admission.