My Lifelong Struggle to Stand Out & Fit In
When I was in the fifth grade, I went through a phase where I carried around a hardback copy of Moby Dick with me everywhere I went.
Yes, I was an 11 year old trying to read Moby. Dick.
I certainly didn't find it interesting or fun to read. I don't think I made it past a few chapters at the time. But I wanted my classmates and friends to think I was smart enough, sophisticated enough to immerse myself in such a lengthy, classic novel with ease.
Around the same time, I started realizing I wasn't into the same things as most of my classmates. They were watching American Idol and singing songs from the radio, and I was listening This Abyss off of the companion album to the Series of Unfortunate Events. I learned how to nod immediately when asked if I had seen the newest movie or heard the newest song, how to fake relevance.
It's something I still do, sometimes. I catch myself immediately replying with a, "Yes," when a friend asks if I've ever heard of a certain book, movie, song or current event. It's an after-effect of years spent trying to fit in.
I feel that these two anecdotes encapsulate my personal struggle with fitting in. A an enneagram 4, I've always felt the desire to be somewhat aloof, mysterious or separate from everyone else. At the same time, that's coupled with the feeling that I think everyone has of wanting to be known, understood completely and accepted.
So I'll listen to obscure, bizarre albums and carry around Moby Dick, but I also want to stay up to date on the latest pop culture and trends.
I've talked about my struggle with fitting in before, which you can read about at this link.
But today I want to focus on the other side, my struggles with standing out.
Just like 11-year-old me carrying around my library's copy of Moby Dick, I still do things like that all the time to try to signify my specialness to the world.
I think we all do this to a certain extent, and I think social media has elevated this tendency we all have to new heights.
You can post a picture of a certain book on your story and seem intelligent, cultured or relevant -- regardless of whether you've read it or not. You can share curated photos of your daily life that paint a picture of elegance, luxury or exclusivity -- whether it's real or not. You can share your meals from specific restaurants. Overall, you can project whatever image of yourself and your life you want to the world.
I think part of learning how to fit in is learning how to just be yourself. Fully, truly, authentically yourself, without reservation or pretension or facades.
My first year in college I struggled with this duality more than ever. I wanted to be cool, acceptable, interesting. I also wanted to be liked, known and understood. Instead, I ended up being neither. I only really made one real friend my first year in college and I spent every weekend back home in Atlanta (not an exaggeration.)
It wasn't until my second year that I learned how to let go of my facade-self, and embrace who I truly was inside. It sounds cheesy -- but it wasn't until that moment that I was able to find a group of friends who embraced me and a place on campus that felt like home.
The lesson is simple. To be truly known, you have to be authentically yourself. You have to be vulnerable and you have to be honest. You can't hide behind enormous, pretentious novels or the latest trends.
And to truly stand out, to truly be unique and interesting, you also have to just be yourself. False identities might make for good Instagram posts sometimes, but they don't make for good people or good friends. By embracing the things you truly love, you will be a special, unique individual all on your own.
To be honest, this post was sparked by my current reading materials. It's not Moby Dick, it's the Twilight series. I'm rereading them because I hit a wall with my reading goal and I wasn't feeling in the mood to read anything. I picked the first in the series that I used to passionately love in middle school (that's another story for another day), and I made it through the first two books in just a few days.
I was a little embarrassed to be reading this series again. It's not very high-brow or intellectual, it's probably not enriching my brain in any way. I realized those feelings of embarrassment are the same feelings that drove me to pretend to love Moby Dick in elementary school.
But here's the thing - people aren't cliches. I can still be smart and enjoy reading Twilight. I can be serious and still laugh all the time. I don't have to be limited into a version of myself that I think is acceptable or interesting. I can just be me, and that can be enough.
I'm thankful for the friends who push me into authenticity.
I'm thankful for the person I am and the person I'm becoming.
I'm thankful for you, reading this post.
I'll leave you with this thought: How can you be authentically yourself today? How will you appreciate who you are instead of trying to force yourself into becoming something or someone else?