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How rebels can thrive in a world that doesn’t always reward them

If you’re a rebel, you should follow this three-step process. 

How rebels can thrive in a world that doesn’t always reward them
[Photo: Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz/Unsplash]

When most people think of a “rebel,” they think of a troublemaker–someone who doesn’t like to follow instructions and causes inconvenient disruptions.

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But that’s not an accurate reflection–rebels challenge the status quo, often by questioning what many people consider to be the “natural” order of things. Sure, some rebels might manifest that by acting out–but today, many rebels are actively figuring out how to use their tendencies for the better.

How rebels can add value

Rebel leaders might cause initial fear and discomfort, but they create a sense of excitement and a vision that people can get behind. Employees who rebel create the friction required to test new ideas and alternative ways of doing things that lead to better solutions. Rebel leaders find innovative ways for institutions to stay relevant in a constantly changing world.

Jay Shetty is a prime example of someone who rebelled against society’s expectations and redefined success on his terms. He grew up as the stereotypical rebel–getting suspended on three separate occasions in high school for starting fights, and was eventually asked to leave the school. His parents and two teachers encouraged him to continue to study and shape up, and ultimately, Shetty was able to figure out how to channel his rebellious nature to instill positive change. Today, Shetty runs a content production agency that works with some of the world’s biggest brands and influencers.

As a rebel, it can feel challenging to get ahead in an environment that seems to reward conformity. But if you channel your energy in the right way, you can achieve amazing results. Here are the three steps that Shetty recommends:

Ask yourself “Am I living the life I want to live?”

According to Shetty, reflection is the first step to adopting (and embracing) the rebel mindset. Ask yourself, “Am I living the life I want to live? Is this the best life I can live? Could there be more to life?”

Steve Jobs used to look in the mirror every few days and ask himself, “Is this the life that I want to live? Am I waking up and doing what I love every day? Am I waking up and doing what I want?” And he said, “If I wasn’t for three days, I knew I had to change.”

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Shetty says that what Jobs did at that moment was rebellious. By doing this exercise, you reduce the danger of going along with a path that someone else set for you. You’re taking the time to build a road for yourself, and you’re also identifying the changes that you might have to make in your current life.

Look for role models

The second step, Shetty says, is to find role models. “You have to start looking at and finding the people that rebelled in a similar way, or in a different environment but with a similar spirit, with a similar goal, wanting to achieve a similar thing, because you need to start seeing how rebellious people weren’t just trying to upset people” Shetty explains. Rebels who challenge the status quo aren’t motivated by making a scene or being rebellious just for the sake of it. They do it out of a strong desire to act in a way that aligns with their priorities and values.

Never stop learning

Most importantly, recognize that being a rebel doesn’t automatically make you better than everyone else. According to Shetty, a lot of people use their rebellious nature to feed their ego, and it becomes a defense mechanism. They start to think, “Oh, I’ve got better ideas. I know more than the people around me.” But a real rebel turns around around and says, “I’m an explorer. I’m an adventurer. I need to learn more,” Shetty says.

As a rebel, you’re likely to see things that no one else does, and that provides tremendous value to an organization. But to turn those insights into something productive, you need to adopt a learner’s mindset. Otherwise, you’ll probably find yourself on the other side of frustrating arguments. Learn to be a rebel who operates with empathy and compassion. When you take ego out of the equation, you’ll be surprised at just how much you can accomplish.


Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, partner and research director at Future Workplace, and the founder of both Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com.

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