This is the first of three exclusive excerpts from Andreas Souvaliotis' new memoir Misfit: Changemaker With an Edge, which chronicles his life as a gay Greek immigrant and rise as a successful green entrepreneur. The book will be officially launched at next week's Social Enterprise World Forum in Calgary, Canada.
I am different. I have always been different. I grew up scared of being found out, scared of my natural inability to fit in, to conform, to look and sound and dress and behave "normal." I was always drawn to the different ones and I observed them in total fascination -- but the thought of being even a little bit like them totally mortified me. I was desperate to fit right in.
It took me a very long time to grow up. That relentless pursuit of "normal" continued to dominate my life until not that long ago. My fear of being found out ruled over my childhood, my adolescence, my 20s, 30s and most of my 40s. I was terrified of rejection and I always linked any form of it (from bad customer service to losing an employee to fighting with a lover) back to who and how I was. I stretched myself all the time so I could blend in and found all that effort exhausting and demoralizing. And nothing ever really changed (I felt): I fit in as little at 45 as I did at five.
But then something remarkable happened: I call it "audience response." As my life and career took an unexpected turn in my mid-40s, and as I wrapped all my passion around a cause, I suddenly found my own voice. I stood on public podiums, wrote for newspapers and magazines, debated with big thought leaders and politicians, preached to followers and employees and discovered an enormous fuel source in me. Not only did I stand out, not only was I different, more passionate, more outspoken, more intense, more bizarre and much more controversial than those "normal" people on the other side of the podium -- I was also less afraid than they were. It was incredible: one day I was (or at least thought I was) the biggest lover of convention and conformity, and the next day I was carrying a flag and didn't even care to count how many were actually following me.
It all happened in a flash. On a beautiful spring morning in 2007, sitting in my backyard and licking my wounds from a spectacular career derailment, I came up with a big idea -- and I found myself contemplating the most daring and unconventional pursuit of my life. My strange genes had already helped create a thousand jagged edges in my career trajectory, but nothing had come close to the wild turn I was about to take.
At a time when others were still trying to figure out that new "green" thing and understand how climate change would reshape the business world, I accidentally became one of the earliest eco-entrepreneurs in my country. I invented something completely new, triggered a mini-revolution within my industry and inspired all sorts of brilliant minds to follow me on a wild journey. I blended my deep passion for climate with everything I knew about influencing human behavior and dreamed up a way to change our world a little bit by simply rewarding people when they made responsible choices.
Somehow, maybe by pure luck or maybe through weirdly wired brain advantage, I landed on that idea before anyone else -- and it ultimately became my legacy and my source of endless appetite for disruptive innovation. The dream and the venture snowballed for years, and along the way I grew into a natural and very public evangelizer, proudly sharing the tale of how magnificent it is to stumble into that magical intersection of passion and skill. I had finally discovered my very hidden and very particular ability to bring a little bit of change to the world, my world.
My story isn't especially profound. I am not a psychologist, and my book contains absolutely no scientific theories or facts; it's just a simple human case study. It is the story of how an erstwhile geeky and paranoid kid suddenly, and almost by accident, discovered his real purpose in this world, and how that enabled him to repurpose the sum of his unique attributes -- eccentricities, skills, fears and passions--into a changemaker's toolkit. Once the realignment had begun, the rest happened quite naturally.
Tomorrow: Dreaming Green.