Fitting In or Standing Out


Fitting In or Standing Out

I’ve been thinking about the concept of conforming. I think we all have the desire and indeed the need to be like others around us. We want those we love, those we respect, and even those we couldn’t care less about to think we are “normal”. We want to be accepted. We want to know we are “okay”.

Yet, I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all feel a bit “different”. There’s something about each of us that is unique. Our hair, our style, our life philosophy, the way we learn, how we socialize, our particular aspirations, etc.

Of course, the media uses that fact and our fear about not fitting in to “encourage” us to buy their products. If you use this product, you’ll be attractive, loved, and perfect. Every single day, we receive a barrage of messages telling us that what we are isn’t good enough but with the help of specific products or particular services, we can change. We can be like everyone else, if only we try.

It’s like a parody of the emperor’s new clothes. We all know we are different but we dare not celebrate that fact or embrace ourselves because we will stick out. We will be belittled. We will be ostracized.

Societal Expectations and Bullying

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a fear scenario. People who are different are set apart. Why can’t they “just get with the program” and be “normal”. It takes a great deal of courage to be okay with being yourself. It takes even more strength to allow someone else to be themselves.

I think in our teens and twenties (thirties and forties), we make such an effort to fit in and be like everyone else. We believe that we can extinguish those things we feel are odd. Some people even seem pretty good at it, like they are that norm.

As we age and experience life, we all start to collect a series of experiences that make us “different” or “stand out”. We get divorced, we experience infertility, we have a child with special needs, we get cancer, etc. No matter how much we fight against these things that threaten to make us different, we can’t sweep them under the rug or otherwise make them disappear.

At some point, usually after we are thoroughly exhausted, we realize that we have to accept the reality of our current situation. Indeed, we find out that this is even a good thing because we can’t fix what we don’t realize is happening. If we’re really lucky, we even come to see that this “terrible” situation providing a hidden opportunity.

Gifts, Talents, and Opportunities

Given enough hidden opportunities and we start to see life a bit differently. Instead of bracing ourselves for a fight to the death every time something doesn’t fit our strict version of normal, we start to think a bit more open mindedly. We begin consciously looking for the life lesson within such experiences and with practice come to see each one as a step closer to our genuine selves and a happy life.

But it’s definitely not easy. There is such joy in being okay with yourself. There is even a feeling of lightness/freedom/contentment as we stop attacking ourselves and start supporting ourselves.

Still, there’s this daily barrage of messages that somehow in being ourselves, we will isolate from the world. Of course, it doesn’t make logical sense. People who are happy and content are more caring.  After all, they know how to accept someone in an honest way. They no longer feel the need to lash out in an aggressive/passive-aggressive way or convince others that they are broken to deflect attention from their own perceived flaws. Plus, they have more personal resources to help others and make a difference in the world because they don’t have to waste so much time and energy pretending to be something they aren’t and playing “the” game.