“Why were [my employers] paying me for the amount of time and freedom I gave up to be at work each day instead of paying me for what I produced?” This sentence, the rallying cry for many unconventional thinkers of the 21st century, serves as the lynchpin for Andreas Souvaliotis’s memoir, Misfit. Souvaliotis, who migrated to Canada from Greece in the early 1990s, founded Green Rewards – the world’s first eco-rewards program – and is now known as the founder of Carrot, a popular Canadian health and wellness app.
Misfit chronicles Souvaliotis’s beginnings as an enthusiastic, slightly awkward boy in Greece and follows him through to the present. Eager to escape from the magnetic charisma – and staunch homophobia – of his parents, the closeted Souvaliotis left behind his life in Greece for university in Brandon, Manitoba. As an immigrant desperate to fit in, he dove into the culture of his new country with single-minded determination – an intensity that, years later, would come clear in Souvaliotis’s new understanding of himself as a neuro-atypical individual on the autism spectrum.
His vigour – and quicksilver, problem-solving mind – propelled him through a career in which the trajectory only goes up; this passage is illustrated through more than a few memorable anecdotes (as the owner of a new penthouse condo, Souvaliotis solves the issue of excess space and no time to make dinner by advertising for a culinary student to live with him rent-free in exchange for personal-chef services) as well as serendipitous connections (a letter he wrote to Pierre Elliott Trudeau makes its way to the former prime minister’s son Justin through a mutual acquaintance, who just happens to be JT’s best friend).
Souvaliotis is candid in his discussion of how neuro-atypical tendencies can in fact operate as a huge advantage in the business world. While his exceptional mind and undeniable talent contribute hugely to his development, arguably providing the necessary mental “cushioning” required to bounce back from various setbacks and tragedies – his parents’ deaths, his partner Joe’s heart condition, Souvaliotis’s own brush with cancer – it is at times difficult to connect with and relate to his story. The relentlessly positive tone of Misfit almost serves to devalue these darker bits of Souvaliotis’s history; it is not always easy to remain optimistic in the face of defeat, especially if one does not move through the world as a successful businessman (gay and neuro-atypical though he may be). In its refusal to do more than gloss over times of despair, Misfit perpetuates the ideas that vulnerability is a bad thing and failure merely the result of not thinking creatively enough, as opposed to a condition that is influenced by all manner of outside considerations.
In the end, however, it is easy to find Souvaliotis, with his excitement and enthusiasm for the next puzzle to be unlocked, extraordinarily charming. Misfit is simple and clear, replete with the entrepreneur’s gospel of creativity and innovation. Misfit will surely resonate for anyone who has likewise struggled to find a place for themselves in the world.