Actually, in Silicon Valley, some people check the "other" box on standardized forms. Maybe the category on those dreaded forms that confounds you is ethnicity or gender or even age (you might feel like a different age than you technically are.) For me, that category is "occupation" or "profession". I just don't fit into any of the standard options. Pretty much ever. My TEDx talk on the The Joys of Otherhood is about just that.
I routinely check the "other" box. Do you?
I was invited to be part of TEDx Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California this year - as one of a handful of community members to join students who were sharing their stories tied to the theme of trailblazers. I chose to talk about The Joys of Otherhood - as in when I face down “the dreaded form” that asks for the ways I label myself.
It was an honor to share the stage with the Gunn community for many reasons, including their resilience in the wake of too many suicides. What I observed - in spades - was openness, curiosity, competence, generosity of spirit and wisdom.
It’s about my journey from feeling less-than-wonderful to embracing not being at home with checking any of the pre-labeled boxes, to realizing that the real action for me is actually in the OTHER box and outside of all the boxes. Sometimes it means creating a label that didn't exist before - for myself and potentially for others.
My metric for success was that at least one person would find it helpful. When I walked out after my talk to meet up with my family and friends, one person came up to me and shared that she hadn't been planning to stay the whole afternoon but she did. And that everything - everything I said resonated with her. She was crying. She asked if I would be willing to have coffee with her. YES! We did and we will again.
Many people - people I know and those I don't - including my own mother and younger sister, have self-identified. "I am an 'other' too." They all go on to describe why that is - essentially thinking out loud about why exactly they are an "other." I think we all sense the power in finally having a label for what it means to have no label. I hear - and feel - a certain tribal connection. Perhaps it is the relief and joy of discovering that there are more of us, lots of us, connected through the articulation and naming of this phenomenon that has otherwise been invisible. I felt less alone and I think they did too.
Success is narrowly defined here in Silicon Valley. If you are looking for role models at any age or stage in life around here in the Valley, the list of "approved options" is pretty short. Engineer, doctor, lawyer, successful entrepreneur, venture capitalist. I remember what one of our son's friends said after he returned from a visit with family friends in Pennsylvania. The dad was the president of a pretzel company. Our then 10-year-old friend remarked "I didn't know you could be that."
So here's to feeling really good about being who we are because we don't fit in a box and finding a meaningful and joyful path that we may not even have known existed. Here's to valuing our unique vantage point in the world. The world needs us all.
With warm regards from one other to an-other (and the rest of you too),
P.S. You can find previous Actually, in Silicon Valley missives here. And explore drawings, First Person interviews and more at lisavandusen.com. Yes, creating this TEDx talk took a lot of time, so that is one reason that you haven't received any Actually, in Silicon Valley missives lately.