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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Encouraging Individuality

I published the article below seven years ago (on Blogger, the platform I was using way back then) but rediscovered it today while trying to decide what I should write for today's post.

My little four-year-old girl is now an 11-year-old young woman, but the message still holds.

Perhaps now more than ever, actually.


Yesterday morning my four-year-old daughter Chloë had quite the tantrum as my wife tried to get her ready for school.

This was unusual because Chloë doesn't throw many tantrums; she's an exceptionally empathetic, well-behaved child, and more often than not she'll do as she's asked when we provide direction. But today was different; she was clearly upset.

When I asked what was wrong, my wife explained that Chloë wanted her hair styled in a highly unconventional way: imagine a Princess Leah bun on one side, a braid on the other, two random asymmetrically-placed ponytails in the back, and multiple different-coloured hair-clips scattered throughout. My wife had initially refused, because she believed such a style would encourage teasing from the other kids in her split JK/SK class, all of whom were older than our December-baby and had already (on occasion) teased her for less.

Chloë clearly believed her Mama's decision was unreasonable and decided to let everybody know how she felt. Very, very loudly. Because the screaming was getting on everybody's nerves and because we were worried that Chloë's continued non-compliance would cause her to miss her bus, my wife eventually relented and styled Chloë's hair according to her wishes.

I couldn't have been more proud.

How do you demonstrate individuality without risking ridicule?

Anyone who attempts to think, act, or behave differently from "the norm" will always be judged, sometimes very harshly, by those who choose to abide by the status quo. It isn't uncommon to hear free-thinkers or uber-creative types labelled as "crazy" by the more conservative ones among us, but unfortunately, the label generally comes with a negative connotation.

But as Apple famously proclaimed, it's the crazy ones who move things forward.

FedEx founder Fred Smith was probably believed to be "crazy" when he first proposed an overnight delivery service. Jeff Bezos was almost certainly accused of being "crazy" as he attempted to build the world's largest bookstore. Some people would put almost everything Elon Musk is working on these days into the "crazy" category. But each of these individuals didn't let people stop them from accomplishing great, ground-breaking things just because those around them thought that what they were doing was too unconventional, too "crazy".

Which brings me back to my daughter...

Clearly, letting my daughter have "crazy hair" won't directly lead to reinventing the way we shop or getting humanity into space. But as a parent, I strongly believe part of my job is to foster that spirit of "respectful rebellion" in my children; that willingness to ignore the naysayers, defy convention, and do things differently even in the face of potential mockery or -- GASP! -- potential failure. It would certainly be easier for me if I were to teach my children to always do what they're told, to never challenge authority (regardless of the circumstances), and to hold back their opinions if they are likely to prove unpopular. But that's not who I am, and it's not who I want my children to be.

So after a quick sidebar with my wife to explain my thinking, I sat down beside Chloë on the bottom step of our staircase where she was crying, wiped away her tears, and told her I thought her hairstyle was awesome. I explained to her that some kids might try to tease her today because it was different from what was considered "normal", but that if they did, she should simply respond by saying, "Well that's your opinion. I like it this way."

As I walked Chloë to the bus stop, I tried to prepare her for the mean kids by engaging her in some role play. In my best mean-kid voice, I said, "Chloë, your hair looks so weird!". She smiled sweetly at me and said, "That's your opinion. I like it this way."

I tried again, eager to ensure my daughter was properly prepared, protected: "Chloë, your hair is crazy! It looks so stupid!" And Chloë looked me in the eye and calmly said, "Daddy, that's enough. I know what to say."

I couldn't have been more proud.

When I picked her up from the bus stop that afternoon, I greeted her with a hug and then tentatively asked, "So... did anyone tease you today?" Chloë smiled and shook her head, "No Daddy. Nobody teased me." When we got home, I heard my wife apologize to my daughter: "I'm sorry Chloë. Daddy was right... you should wear your hair however you like."

This morning, when it was time to style Chloë's hair, my wife told me she took a different approach. She asked, "So how would you like to wear your hair today?"

Chloë immediately began to excitedly describe exactly how she wanted her hair styled: "I want a ponytail here, and then a braid, and then I want them to connect!"

"Okay," said my wife, and proceeded to bring Chloë's vision to life.

When they both came downstairs where I was working, my wife said, "Go show Daddy your hair." Then to me, she said, "Our daughter is an artist. And she doesn't care what anybody thinks of her."

I couldn't have been more proud.


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