By Katie Marshall
A “Free Spirit” is an independent, uninhibited person. We picture Free Spirits in bright colors, maybe running through a field of flowers or dancing to a very cool vinyl while making ice cream for dinner the night before they leave for a grand adventure in another country.
You’ve seen Free Spirits in the business world, either creating and running their own small businesses or working for the cool start-ups in Silicon Valley. You can picture it: the quiet one working on a touch screen air monitor, sitting on a meditation pillow, barefoot. It is a little more difficult to picture that same vibrantly independent individual finding a home in the Corporate World, with its PC desk monitors and beige cubicle walls.
Why would someone who frequents weekend-long music festivals wearing butterfly wings operate in a world that is, for all intents and purposes, butterfly-wing-less? That’s the easy question with a quick answer. While Free Spirits may operate out of a vibrantly unique perspective, everybody needs a job. Obviously. Especially in today’s world.
The real question is this: could that brightly colored Lisa Frank cartoon-come-to-life person who camps by themselves and hula-hoops on street corners for cab fare provide value to the blue, black, and gray types of companies built on consistency and quota-completion?
Yes. And lots of it. Here’s why.
1. Free Spirits are masters at bringing their passion to everyday life, finding meaning in everyday tasks – and there is nothing more desperately needed in the working world.
The Corporate World, especially in America, is known for bringing new employees in at the beginning of their careers and encouraging them to “work their way up.” This is not a rare occurrence in businesses of any kind; you start at the start and you grow as you move forward. However, in the Corporate World, employees (as people are called as soon as they get their office key card) are reminded regularly that their role exists within certain confines and expectations. You may think that a Free Spirit would be immediately turned off by such a boxed-in approach. However, limitations inspire creativity – the fuel of the Free Spirit. Instead of getting stuck in the rules, Free Spirits read the rules, acknowledge the important ones, then question and even modify them, if not break them completely. Which leads to…
2. Free Spirits thrive on innovation.
It would be easy to agree with everything The Company says. It is comfortable and comforting to accept the old (and terrible) adage, “it is what it is.” However, Free Spirits are not into accepting the norm. They exist in the space between what is and what could be. Evolution requires innovation. Growth demands creativity. This is where the Free Spirit adds huge value. Since they are not satisfied with remaining static, they will push The Company forward to look at new options and explore new possibilities. They will do things a little bit differently, from using dynamic National Geographic photos in PowerPoint Presentations rather than stock photos to recommending a Walking Meeting instead of a conference call. Little by little, big by big, Free Spirits make real change. And they do it gracefully.
3. Independence creates the ability to debate, disagree, and move on without hurt feelings.
To be independent is to be confident and supportive of yourself, without the need for approval from others. A Free Spirit’s self-worth does not hinge on the affirmation of others, which allows them to present new ideas and contest the ideas of others courageously. It is easy to take conference call comments personally and respond to emails emotionally. It’s easy to get stuck in the rumor mill, negativity, and cynicism that can accompany the business world. But for a Free Spirit, it’s almost easier to stay out of it and to keep the real priorities in focus.
4. Free Spirits put real meaning into buzzwords, they make abstractions practical.
You’ve heard them in your team meetings. You see them in inspirational posters in your breakrooms. Work/life balance. Diversity. Inclusion. After a while, they all blur into one giant positivity campaign that you see in print, but not always in action. Free Spirits hear these terms and recognize them for what they are: a way of life. Rather than just checking a box, a Free Spirit will own the idea that a happy employee is a successful employee. They will use their time off, rather than trading in their vacation days for more money. They will dress up for the office Halloween costume contest and encourage their cubicle-mates to join them. They will ask their team members what they need in order to feel more included and appreciated at work and they will follow-through on the ideas. This willingness to take the “small stuff” seriously brings energy into The Company’s employees, and as such, empowers them to create and execute amazing work.
5. Free Spirits prioritize human connectedness, and know that a holistically supportive environment enables better work… not prevents it.
A Free Spirit might not attend a Networking Event. It’s not necessarily because they are a loner or on the fringe, but because even though networking is the reported number one way to move forward in your career, they see manufactured networking as less valuable than creating genuine connections in real time at the office. Free Spirits aren’t concerned with how long you’ve been in Process & IT or where you got your MBA. They want to know what makes you come alive. What brings you joy? What do you love about your family? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? What would you bring? Free Spirits are not confined by the desire to impress others, so they will not make small talk. They’re here for the big talk. And as with all things, talking leads to ideas, which lead to actions, which lead to change. And that is why in the jacket and tie, coffee-binging over next quarter’s results environment of the Corporate World, Free Spirits are exactly what we need to succeed.