The Curse of Conformity

In 1983 I landed my first job in the computer industry. I applied for an open position, sent in my resume, endured a few interviews, and attended one final meeting.

In that meeting, my soon-to-be boss said, “I have chosen you for the position, but let me explain why:”

  • I didn’t choose you because of your education” (I had studied 17th Century European Intellectual History, not exactly Computer Science);
  • And I didn’t choose you because your grades were better” (when I say I “studied history” I don’t mean to imply I studied real hard);
  • And I didn’t choose you because of your great business experience” (three years of mission work didn’t qualify as a practical MBA).

His care for my self-esteem was underwhelming; I began to wonder if the job was really mine.

He continued, “I chose you because you answered my questions differently than I would have. I didn’t agree with every answer, but your answers gave me an outlook I hadn’t considered. I don’t need more people who think like me—I already think like me—I need people who offer different perspectives.” He concluded,

“The curse of the computer industry is conformity; never lose your non-conformity.”

Iron Sharpens Iron

We all need different perspectives. We may not like them, but we need them. Before I post a blog, I ask a few people for their input. My mom often responds, “Sam this is the most brilliant article you’ve ever written.” I like that. It makes me feel good. (And my self-esteem is still recovering from the job interview thirty-five years ago.)

And my son Jonathan often responds, “Dad, this might be the worst article you’ve ever written. It’s preachy; you used the word ‘grace’ twenty-seven times; you forgot to use any humor; and it isn’t your voice.” I feel bad, a bit sad, and perhaps a little mad.

And I love it. Because his viewpoint dramatically improves my writing.

He’s giving me eyes to see myself from the outside. His perceptions balance my perspective. He’s not conforming to me, he’s non-conforming to me; and so he’s transforming me.

Iron sharpens iron; marshmallows make you fat. We need more iron in our diet.

But It Goes Against the Grain

The world trains us to conform, imitate, replicate, duplicate, and fit in. From skinny-jean fashions to Starbucks on every corner.  Like lemmings we follow.

But success is born out of distinction. It’s the difference that make the difference. Hugely popular Apple Corporation flourished because they offered something new; they weren’t your daddy’s IBM. Transformation arises out of departure from the everyday norm.

That boss of mine was unusual and unusually wise (except, perhaps, in hiring me). He reveled in the challenge of a different viewpoint. Most bosses fear disagreement. They are so insecure that our slightest question sends them howling.

In uniformity, we lose our soul.

Me Too-ism

I don’t understand us Christians. We believe—or think we believe—that Christianity offers something completely unique. But then we run after popular trends and say to the world, “Me too. Please like me. I can be cool too.”

We adopt the world’s answers, dress them in clerical robes, and say, “Me too.” But the world looks at us and responds, “Who cares! We thought this way without your help. We don’t need Christianity’s approval; of what help are you?” We’ve conformed not contributed.

Mark Twain said, “It is human nature to conform; it is a force which only few can successfully resist. Why do we conform? The inborn requirement of approval. We want too much to be liked. So we fail.”

Let’s never lose our holy non-conformity.


Is hearing God normal? It isn’t in the world, but it can be the new normal for believers. From hearing God in Scripture, to divine dialogue, to Godly guidance, we can be holy-conformed and then wholly-transformed into His image.

God himself longs for us to grow in intimacy with him; and the greatest way to know God is to learn to hear his voice.  Buy Now

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What do YOU think?

14 thoughts on “The Curse of Conformity

  1. Awesome, Sam! I want to be just like you when I grow up! Wait…is that conformity? (Hope that helps your self-esteem!)

  2. I was thinking, “Well shoot, I’m like his mother! The few times I post a comment they are always positive and affirming.” But I can’t help it. Sam, you are a much appreciated marshmallow in my world. And I’m okay with that, because the flip side to your well written (grin) point is that I have A LOT of iron in my world and sometimes I start to think that I must be a freak who experiences the “christian life” uniquely. Then a few people, like you, help me remember that there are quite a few freaks out there who are non-conformists to the traditional christian belief systems. Don’t stop being freaky! And I probably won’t stop being marshmallowy. 🙂

  3. Excellent, Sam, just excellent. So it’s OK to be a hand ( or maybe just a fingernail) when everyone is saying we have to be feet? You are a good man Sam… thanks for your institutional rebellion.

  4. But success is born out of distinction. It’s the difference that make the difference.
    In uniformity, we lose our soul.

    Those 2 sentences reveal so much

    Thanks Sam

  5. My Bible Study group was just discussing this two weeks ago…how to be IN the world without being OF the world. I LIKE being different from the world because I know that my difference makes me even more loved by God.

    • HI Cindy,

      The world warps so much language that we often can’t think clearly. For most of us (and I mean most believers!), the word “holy” means things like: pious and devout, or rigid and straight-laced.

      When it really means to be different or apart or set-apart.

      God loves you to be different than the world. He calls you his holy child!