Today, I have a very special message for anyone who feels like they don’t belong. I’m writing for the people, who look at the world they live in, or the schools they attend or the work environment they inhabit, and can’t find their place. The ones who, very sadly, try to change themselves in the hope they will become more accepted or perhaps, one day, ‘fit in’.
I’m one of these people and, in this article; I’m going to share 3 very powerful lessons I’ve learned which have enabled me to turn this feeling on its head and use it to my advantage.
So read carefully, apply the insights and you’ll be able to carve out your own place in this world without having to compromise your values or alter your personality.
My Struggle to ‘Fit In’
My first experience of feeling like I didn’t belong occurred when I moved to secondary school (I was 11 years old).
Suddenly, the whole game had changed. Being a kid, and becoming a teenager, was no longer about having fun, it was about being cool.
For some reason, we all had to dress the same and wear a certain type of clothes. If we wanted to seem grown up or hard, we had to smoke and later on drink and do drugs. And our value wasn’t determined by how good a person or friend we were, it was determined by how good you could make someone look if you were friends with them.
I couldn’t ‘fit in’ to this environment and as a result, I spent a lot of time on my own. I barely had any friends; I didn’t go to any parties and never celebrated my birthday. I have memories of sitting down next to kids in class and them moving because I was seen as the loner who nobody wanted to associate with.
My next experience of feeling like I didn’t belong occurred at University.
The problem here was that I didn’t drink. Back then, and I’m sure it’s the same now, the whole social scene, especially in the UK, revolved around alcohol.
However, I couldn’t understand why it was cool to drink to the point where you were physically sick. I didn’t understand how a night out was considered great if you couldn’t remember anything that happened the next day. And I thought that all of these ‘big nights out’ were just detracting from the bigger picture of where our lives were heading.
Again, I couldn’t ‘fit in’ and this time the consequences were worse. I went from having a couple of friends to having no friends at all. Baring a few pleasantries, I barely spoke to anyone for the whole 3 years, spending most of the time in my room. And the absolute highlight of my week, (and I’m ashamed to say this because I despise the place now) was a trip to McDonald’s on a Saturday night and then going to the cinema to watch a movie alone.
My last experience of feeling like I didn’t belong occurred when entering the world of work (or what some people describe as the ‘Real World’).
I was terrified at the prospect of working 40 plus hours a week for 40 plus years of my life in a job which, at best, I wasn’t passionate about and, at worst, bored my brains out. I couldn’t understand why so many adults accepted spending the majority of their life being somewhere they didn’t want to be, working with and for people they didn’t like and receiving little reward beyond their monthly pay cheque.
There was no way I wanted to be a part of this world so I decided to fight back. . .
Fast forward to now, and I’ve been successful in doing so. After many years of struggle and learning, I’m pleased to say that I’m happy, successful at working jobs that I enjoy, and have found a place and people with whom I belong.
If you’re currently feeling like you don’t ‘fit in’ then I’m guessing this is somewhere you’d like to be.
To help you get there, I’ll now share with you the 3 lessons I learned during my journey.
1. Reject the ‘Real World’
You don’t have to accept or live in the ‘Real World’ (or anybody else’s take on how your life should be). Our parents, bosses, colleagues, friends and the media use this term to stop us dreaming and make us conform to the small, limited world that they believe in.
But here’s the really exciting thing, it doesn’t have to be your reality. Accepting the ‘Real World’ with all its bullshit limits and restrictions about what you can and can’t do is just a choice. If you’re like me, and don’t want to have anything to do with it, then you’ve got some exciting options.
With 100% certainty in its success and validity, you can begin to create your world with its own rules for engagement, standards for how people should treat each other and control over how you use your time.
And the reason I say with 100% certainty is that the notion that there’s one way of living to which we all have to adapt is scientifically inaccurate.
Consider this (the following information is taken from a documentary called The Brain by David Eagleman), when we see and take in information from the world around us, there’s six times more traffic along the neurons between our visual cortex and thalamus and there is between our eyes and thalamus.
Why is this relevant?
Think of the Thalamus as the centre point of the brain, and the visual cortex as the storehouse and the eyes as the window to the outside world. Therefore, whenever we take something in from the world, there is 6 times more information about what we’re seeing coming from inside our brain than there is from outside.
This means our world is, largely, created within our brain and the meaning we give to the things we see, rather than being something outside ourselves.
Therefore, since you’re living inside your mind, you have every right to make your world a happy, harmonious one and are under no obligation to accept the world that is presented to you.
2. Not being ‘Normal’ is a Blessing
Have you ever asked why it is that, no matter how hard you try, you find it so difficult to ‘fit in’?
Don’t ever ask to be normal. You’re so much greater than normal. Embrace your uniqueness, show it to the world.
The Imitation Game is a brilliant film about Second World War hero and Enigma code breaker Alan Turing. Turing found it impossible to ‘fit in’. He was gay at a time when it was a crime to be so, a loner and didn’t care for the etiquette’s of society. He made an incredible contribution to the world yet The System treated him shamefully. After the war, he was medically castrated for being homosexual and his code breaking work was ignored due to the Secrecy Act.
This sent him into a deep depression, and towards the end of the film, we see him a broken, lonely man. His one friend, Joan Clarke, consuls him by telling him something that every person who regrets not being ‘normal’ needs to hear,
“No one normal could have done that [referring to Turing’s work]. Do you know, this morning, I was on a train that went through a city, that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you? I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work, a whole field of scientific enquiry, that only exists because of you.
Now if you wish you could have been normal, I can promise you, I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”
3. You are an Agent of Change in the World
There’s a brilliant quote from George Bernard Shaw and it goes like this,
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world,
The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself,
That’s why all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
You feel like you don’t belong because there’s something important you need to change. It may be other people’s attitudes, like Turing it might be a much needed invention or technology you need to develop, or it might be a unique path you need to walk that will result in uplifting others.
So don’t fight this feeling of not belonging. Instead, listen to what it’s telling you and act on it. People are going to tell you to live in the ‘Real World’, and that what you want to do is not possible, but they can’t stop you. The thing you thought was your life’s curse may actually be the blessing that’s going to open the doors to a life beyond your wildest dreams.
(This article is based on a talk I recently performed for Inspire’d Stage in London. To watch that version, click here.)
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About the Author: Joe Barnes is creator of the Screw The System website and author of the critically acclaimed Escape The System. His mission is to give all Dreamers, Adventurers and Entrepreneurs the inspiration and information necessary to pursue their true calling. He also works as a hypnotherapist and tennis coach.