What If You Didn’t Want to Stand Out?

Tuyen Quang, 2016
Tuyen Quang, 2016

In America and the west (okay, perhaps mostly America) — we are told from a young age to “stand out” and “be different.”

What if we applied a different philosophy? Rather than to stand out, to just be simple and plain? Rather than wearing flashy clothes, to wear more subdued clothes? Rather than having a lot of social media followers, to have a few dedicated followers?

Why do we want to stand out?


I’m surprised— whenever I meet young kids, it seems the #1 most coveted job is to be a “YouTube celebrity.”

In America, we worship celebrities and idols. Entertainers are the kings and the Gods of American society. We are all addicted to pop culture, to music, to the radio, to TV, to YouTube, to movies, and other forms of entertainment.

From a young age, I always wanted to stand out. I didn’t want to be like others. I purposefully tried to “go opposite” from my peers.

For example, when all my friends were wearing Nike’s, I opted for Adidas.

When others used Apple products, I stuck with PC.

When others listened to mainstream music, I stuck with the underground.

How to really “be different”


But the problem is that my “being different” was very superficial. I was identifying myself and my self-worth and ideology with brands, not with my mode of thinking.

I feel to “be different” or to “think different” doesn’t mean to look at what everyone is doing, and just doing the opposite thing. Rather, I think it means to totally ignore what others are doing, and just to stick to your own gut. To follow your own soul and conscience. To do what feels right to you, rather than what popular opinion says.

Change yourself; not others


I feel it also means not to complain about what others are doing, and what the external world is doing.

You can’t change others; but you can change yourself.

So rather than criticizing how others were always on their smartphones; I made it a rule for me to spend less time on my smartphone.

When I saw others overly-addicted to social media, rather than criticizing them, I worked hard to break my own addiction to social media.

Rather than criticizing others for not working on their creative products, I just learned to shut up and just to focus on my own work.

Rather than criticizing other photographers for always wanting new gear, I tried to focus on just being satisfied with the gear I already owned. And to simplify and minimize my life.

What do you really want to stand out?


You want to stand out— but not for your clothes, your lifestyle, or your image. You want your exterior to be plain, but your interior to shine.

Don’t let people admire you by the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the home you live in, or the camera you shoot with.

Rather, let people admire you by your personality, the way you live your life, the creative work that you do, and for your soul.

Be as ordinary as a rugged stone on the outside; glitter like a jewel on the inside.


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