Paradiddle. It’s a word I learned late in life, but one that has directed my life for as long as I can remember remembering anything at all. A paradiddle is one of the most basic patterns for drumming.
I had a decisive moment several years ago, when my basic pattern became strikingly clear to me. I interviewed for admission to a liberal arts university. My high school admissions counselor told me not to bother applying, one of the reasons being that I didn’t have a 4.0 GPA. But I was fortified by self-determination and fail-proofed by my first business suit.
Plucky, perceptive and persistent, I sat in that stale Admissions Office for my interview. I remember being asked, “How will you manage your life ten years out as a professional, who is also a mother?” It was 1989. I was a few months away from recognizing that question was inappropriate, and three years away from using email. Projecting forward to 1999, with the unjaded view of my 17-year-old self, I explained my vision of a world in which everyone can do their work their own way. Years later, that vision resembles what the gig economy is offering more of.Paradiddle, tap-tap, I was admitted to the university.
From the moment I could reason, I began marching to the beat of my own drum. That is not the once boastful claim of a pretentious and precocious child, who delighted in defying and disqualifying adult omnipotence. I was the daughter of immigrants from Buenos Aires. Much of my formative life was spent observing and absorbing, inquiring and learning, practicing and improving.
From childhood, the cadence of adamant curiosity has timed my march through life. I recall hearing it clearly, during the only time my parents ever sat their four children down in front of the television. The momentous occasion-the Camp David Peace Accords. That event sparked a particular fixation for me, that being the character and conduct of leaders. I became engrossed by why and how they do what they do, and who they have to be to do it. I wanted an architectural understanding of their hearts and minds, with the thought that one day I might be able to design and build better concepts and applications for leadership.
I continued on at that university, determined to create a job from my fixation.Again, dissuasion tried to march me to a different beat. In my third year, a staff member at the career office deterred me from applying to the Chicago Business Fellowship at Booth Business School. Why? Because all past winners were economics majors, and I was not. After being awarded that fellowship, I set out to learn the tools and techniques I assumed leaders were being taught in business schools.
During orientation week, all first-year students were divided into small groups to compete in the “Dean’s Challenge”, a pre-gig economy new venture challenge. My team members viewed my idea as too progressive to win the contest and refused to explore the concept. I joined a more receptive group, and our team won. I invited the team to join me to pitch one of the judges, the President of First Chicago Bank, to hire our team as consultants. They scoffed at the idea that he would consider us neophytes as consultants and stayed back while I made my pitch. The boardroom was daunting. I was dauntless. We were hired.
Long-shot challenges have been the slingshot launches that pitched the trajectory of my professional life upward and outward. I don’t credit the impertinence of audacity for being able to pursue them past doubters and detractors; nor do I charge it to an extravagant opinion of myself. I attribute it to something I realized long ago. I am not suited for conformity.
From childhood on, the stipulations of prevailing attitudes always made me feel like I was being intentionally shoved or tripped. Arbitrary constraints and deterring expectations threw me off rhythm and caused me to stumble out of step with myself.
Discovering that discomfort was an identity-defining moment of self-awareness. My incompatibility with conformity wasn’t triggered by an experience of gender bias, or an incident of immigrant disparagement. Nor was it introspectively conceived as a rejection of civil norms, or a rebellious disregard for discipline, or a defiant resentment of authority. Its origins had a deeper and more fundamental rooting. What I felt was innate not intentional. I could no more dismiss it from who I am, than I could my own genetics.
Consequently, complying with a presumption about my destiny always felt like self-betrayal. My unwillingness to reconcile that meant being unwilling to subsidize the predisposition of others. By default, I was able to do that because of my two most intrinsic traits. I have always been prompted by insistent curiosity and spurred by restless creativity. To seek, question and challenge is not the invitation of conformity. Nor is imagination, originality or change. Those efforts are the guides and demands of self-determination.
I not only wanted to know ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ but also ‘what if’, ‘why not’ and ‘how come’. My motivation to know drove me past apathy and alienation, without internalizing either. And my fidgety mind was constantly deconstructing, drafting, conceptualizing and reinventing most nearly everything I observed. What resulted was the development of a steadfast loyalty to self, born of a mindset that would not allow me to forsake my interest. It also instilled within me an unyielding conviction to principles, which protected me from compromising who I am, what I believe and what I wanted to do. In other words, what enabled me to resist and withstand the rejections of conformity was integrity.
I understand that word to mean the cohesive strength of what firmly bonds to the point of solidity. This is why integrity can be used when describing the strength of a weld, the stability of a bridge, the reputation of an organization and the composition of someone’s character. Each of these examples has a bonding agent that creates its integrity: the soldering compound of a strong weld; the tightly fastened bolts of a stable bridge; the reliable observance of ethics by a reputable organization.
What is the bonding agent of character’s integrity? The certainty of self. This is what adheres self-knowledge to self-awareness-the recognition of who you are to the realization of who you are not. This bond seals the resolve of belief in yourself, and this belief is the conviction of conduct, which provides you with the ability to be true to who you are.
My certainty of self encouraged me to decline the advice of my high school counselor, and the guidance from a staff member in the career office at my university. It also bolstered me to win a contest and to pitch a bank president. And it furnished me with a crucial insight, one that daily taps out the cadence of my self-determination: Limitations should be discovered, not predetermined.
As I previously mentioned, a steadfast loyalty to self is one aspect of integrity. The other, an unyielding conviction to principles, provides the daily directives that fortify your resolve to resist conformity.
Principles are the codes of conduct we live by, formed from the values we hold to represent our ideal self. They provide standards that serve as the metrics we use to measure our character, and to gauge the character of others. They establish the resolutions of self-preservation, those guidelines of behavior we follow to define and defend our identity. And when they are objectively reasoned, they are transferable across any generation, culture or social setting.
The character windfall of integrity is extremely rewarding. Amongst its many benefits, three are most notable:
Self-possession. This is a level of demeanor demonstrated by being fully accountable for and in control of your feelings and behaviors. It is completely unaccommodating to the internal conflict, thought annoyance and clouded conscience caused by any challenge or dilemma confronting your principles. It is also impermeable to the doubts, dissuasions and disparagements of others.
Self-validation. This is more than an affirmation of self-value. It is a confirmation of your worthiness and of your authority to act in your best interest. Engaging it means increasing the likelihood that you will attain the goals set by your self-determination, and that you will never be influenced by the pessimism and cynicism of others.
Personal accord. This is a degree of self-confidence that goes far beyond being sure of your abilities and intentions. It means acting with the agency to execute on your terms, in everything you do. Doing so will yield outcomes that are more meaningful and fulfilling to you. Even if your efforts result in partial achievement or complete failure, you will not incorporate that result into your identity. The contentment derived from the full application of who you are will allow you to reconcile setbacks and adversity- without being defined by them. You will not be plagued by regret or persecuted by the guilt of failure.
Despite the benefits of integrity, many people find the lures of conformity to have a stronger draw. There are three that are particularly powerful in their appeal:
Accommodation/Acceptance. A sense of belonging is amongst the most compelling of human desires. So too is the desire to not be targeted for mistreatment. Adapting to the disposition of those in the majority; or capitulating to the preferences of those who are dominant almost always ensures admission into a community of interest, or an exemption from being maligned.
Risk avoidance. This means more than having an aversion because aversion has a variable for assessing a gamble. Avoidance has none. It is an absolute ambition to eliminate any exposure to the responsibility of initiative. It wants to completely elude any possibility of being associated with error. And it seeks to shun any potential of being marginalized, for acting beyond the norms or contravening expectations. Independence operates without a safety net. The uncertainties, doubts, fears and liabilities that accompany it often prove too overwhelming for most people to undertake.
Personal gain. History is awash in fame and fortune stories about people who are willing to compromise or forsake themselves; and adulterateor abdicate their principles in order to curry favor, gain an advantage, secure a promotion, receive a gift, obtain a raise or attain anything they are willing to value more than their integrity.
Conformity necessitates a measure of self-deception, which replaces the certainty of self with moral ambiguity affixed to a veneer of identity. It also requires the silencing of the inner voice that will protest for listening to its truth.
Integrity mandates an unyielding devotion to self-preservation, and to upholding the principles that determine its character. It also amplifies the inner voice that directs true self, on its path for actualization.
In life, you have to decide what cadence to follow. I’m still beating my drum.