Most people make it their life’s goal to keep up with the Joneses. Teenagers damage their own lives to be like the cool kids. Adults put themselves in debt to impress dates and coworkers. In the end, they often wind up with problems that could have been easily avoided just by staying in their own lane.
Being born with a birth defect, fitting in with the other kids was a big deal to me when I was a relatively sheltered kid. By sheltered, I mean that I didn’t go to public school until I was 8 years old, as my parents didn’t want me to be bullied. There were only so many kids in my neighborhood, especially on school days, and fewer who would accept me. Plus, I was slow at following the fads that most of the other kids were doing. Also, I was raised on 50s-70s music, and it took me until age 8 to know that that wasn’t current music.
In my mid-teen years, the constant bullying, my lack of social skills, and years of an abusive friendship led me to give up on having a social life. At first, I hated the loneliness, however, I learned an amazing lesson from that solitude. I learned that trying so hard to get people to like me was doing more harm than good.
I was pretending to be people I was not. I was embarrassed of who I was. I was desperate for other people’s approval. I had distorted ideas of how to live my life. I felt the need to pretend to like what I didn’t and dislike what I did.
Cutting toxic people out of my life and setting standards for who to share my time with changed all of this. I’m grateful that it happened at a young age. Here are a few lessons learned from my experience.
1. Why Be Someone You’re Not?
Sometimes, fitting in means adopting the bad habits of your peers. As someone with experience, I can tell you that it’s not fun. For instance, I was a shy, quiet kid throughout most of my school life. However, there were times where I would make fun of my middle and high school classmates just to make people laugh. Usually, I had no issue with that person, and some were friends whom I was talk about behind their backs. My excuse is that I saw people getting praise for making fun of others, so I resorted to being a jerk to impress people. I felt bad, the people whom I insulted felt bad, and those who laughed weren’t worth the trouble.
There are introverted people in the world who think they can’t be successful unless they “cure” themselves to become extroverts. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates would disagree, but I digress. There are adults working jobs that they hate, but grin and bare it just because it’s a family tradition. There are good kids who think they have to start trouble at school to be popular.
Here’s a better thought: you don’t need to live other people’s beliefs. The status quo isn’t always the only option. Usually, the only one suffering is you, and the ones who seem to be impressed are not worth the trouble.
2. Fitting in Won’t Pay Your Bills
In fact, the exact opposite is true. Most people won’t go to a thrift store and pick up a bunch of nice clothes because they fear what other people would think of the price tags. They’d rather go to a popular store for one expensive suit just because of the brand name. They’ll get the latest smartphone with features they don’t understand, when the phone they have now is perfectly fine. They’ll ignore the perfect used car in favor of a new car that they can barely afford just to impress their loved ones.
In other words, they’ll pay to impress people, some of whom they don’t even know.
Meanwhile, there are quite a few wealthy people who are unashamed of being cheap. One winter day, Steve Jobs and a friend walked into a clothing store. Steve tried on the coat, looked at the price tag, and put it back. He said, “That much for an overcoat? Too much.” The two then left the store, Steve without a coat or even a jacket. He’d rather freeze than waste money on an expensive coat from out of town when he lived in California. Just because you have money doesn’t mean you have to spend money.
3. Not Everybody is Going to Like You
All 7 billion+ people in the world are not going to like you. There are people right now who don’t even know you, but they hate you. Some people hate those with your skin color. Some people hate people from your country. Some people hate your belief in God, or lack thereof. Some strangers will kill you, unprovoked, as a result of their own issues.
Since people are going to hate you anyway, you might as well do what you want without the added pressure of trying to get everyone to accept you. Even if you could, it’s not your place to get all of those people to like you.
4. The Right People Will Love You
People who have trouble fitting in often have beliefs, interests, etc. that the people around them don’t relate to. They could be a teenager who would rather read books than watch reality (M)TV. They could be a woman who refuses to buy into modern feminism. They could be a man who loves romance movies. Naturally, in order to fit in with the masses, they often have to suppress themselves in favor of at least pretending to like what their peers like. Otherwise, they’ll be made fun of. Is fitting in really so important that you’re willing to wear a mask whenever you’re around your “friends”?
When I was a teenager, all of my friends were primarily into gangsta rap and crunk music. Certain music to them was considered white, soft, or gay. As someone whose musical interests included — and still does include — 80’s rock, ‘NSync, and Ashanti — I’d have to hide that from my friends because they would make fun of me.
Bernard M. Baruch said it best: be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. In a world of 7 billion+ people, you’re not truly alone. You’re not the only person who likes “that movie that no one else remembers.” You’re not the only one who doesn’t believe in hitting kids. You’re not the only one who doesn’t follow the news. By being who you are, you attract like minds. Isn’t that so much more comfortable than attracting toxic people by pretending to be someone you’re not?
The internet is full of message boards and social media groups for fans of just about everything. They even make it easy for socially awkward people to make friends. There are websites where you can set up or attend in-person meetings. Do you love anime? There are social clubs for that. Do you collect retro stuff? There are social clubs for that. Why hide your uncommon interests and dislikes when you can embrace them and befriend like-minded people? The less common your mindset is, the more you can bet that people with similar minds want a friend like you.
5. You’re Only Seeing The Positive Side of Their Life
If you’ve been single for too long, it’s easy to look at happy family in a supermarket and get upset because you want to trade places with them. After all, everybody else you know is married with children. However, you don’t what they’re going through at home. You don’t see their bills. You don’t see the arguments the parents have. You don’t see the hell they go through when their baby starts crying at 3:36am and they have to be at work at 7:00am. Some people in that family might even envy YOU.
It’s great to have things like a big family, a high-paying job, a great car, and so on. However, you have to ask yourself why you want it. Do you really want that stuff, or do you think that they’ll somehow make you more worthy as a person?
6. By Embracing Your Uniqueness, You Give Others Permission to Do the Same
A society that clutches the status quo and condemns what they don’t understand, needs more people to shake them up. How do you do that? By showing off your quirks and uncommon beliefs. You’re an adult who likes 90s stuff? Wear some shirts that show off your nostalgia. You love studying history? Speak some knowledge on how ignorance dooms people to repeating bad habits of the past. You support gay marriage? Post it on your Facebook page.
I’m not saying you should preach and shove your beliefs down people’s throats. I’m saying that making statements can educate other people. It can inspire people to take action. It can show people that they aren’t alone.
7. It’s Great to be Disconnected
My childhood ignorance of trends didn’t stop when I became an adult. I’m still disconnected from current events to where I don’t know what’s happening on this TV show or with this celebrity scandal or what the president did, etc. I rarely watch TV, I don’t listen to radio, nor do I read newspapers. The people I hang out with don’t feed me gossip or complaints.
The result? I’m a lot happier than most people who care about that stuff. I know this because people are constantly complaining about it. 99% of it either has nothing to do with them, or they won’t do anything about it. Is that really worth plugging into what “everyone else” is plugged into?
Eric Thomas, aka the Hip-Hop Preacher, has a brilliant speech about individuality. You can watch the video below, but here is my favorite part of the speech:
“Some of you, you spend so much time with other people, you spend so much time tryna get people to like you, you spend trying to fit in that you don’t even know who you are. You know other people more than you know yourself. You study them, you know about them, you wanna hang out like them, you wanna be just like them. You’ve invested so much time in them that you don’t know who you are.”
Make a nice day!