The Photocopy Syndrome (Part One)

Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? Like, in a round-hole-kind-of-world, you’re more of a square-peg-kind-of-a-person? What if your unique design, gifting, and personality serve a purpose, even if they make you feel like a consummate outsider? Maybe you shouldn’t become someone else in order to fit in?

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Every man is born an original, but sadly, most men die copies.” He’s not wrong. The problem with a round-hole-kind-of-world, is that this sort of uniformity robs us of our humanity. To reject our uniqueness in order to comply makes us less ourselves and deprives the world of the individual contribution we alone can make to it. The world would indeed be a better place if more of us were more of ourselves in it.

The world would indeed be a better place if more of us were more of ourselves in it.

Our incessant drive to be “in the room where it happened” can easily lead us down a path of conformity and compromise. C.S. Lewis gives us a helpful insight in his ever relevant essay “The Inner Ring.” The inner ring is a sphere of influence and perceived importance. It’s a place or prestige and privelege. And deep in the human heart is a desire to get there — wherever there is — by whatever means necessary. Here’s how Lewis describes it:

There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called “You and Tony and me.” When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.” From outside, if you have dispaired of getting into it, you call it “That gang” or “they” or “So-and-so and his set” or “The Caucus” or “The Inner Ring.” If you are a candidate for admission you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness. 

Lewis tells us that the desire to be in the inner ring will break us unless we break it. In the next couple posts, I’ll suggest some ways we can resist the inner ring impulse while simultaneously reimagining our distinct contribution in the various spaces we fill. These posts are not a product of perfected wisdom or credentialed expertise, but reflections from someone trying to figure it out. Maybe we can think about this together. Shall we?

Like you, I have scars from seeking to fit into places I never should have tried to belong, and unexamined opportunities where my peculiar gifts and talents might flourish. It’s doubtful, in this life, any of us will find a utopia. The responsibilities of life often demand something less than an optimal arrangement. That’s inescapable in the main. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a better way.

This likely has far more to do with our personal lives than our careers. But the two are difficult to separate, and we are who we are wherever we may find ourselves. But we should make it the goal of our whole lives to be and become who we really are instead of forcing ourselves into boxes that are conveniently presented to us — or perhaps, to put it more saliently — silently demanded of us. How might we avoid the photocopy syndrome?

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four