I am that square peg in the round hole. I always stand a bit outside the circle, even when it tries to absorb me. I must keep this part of me alive, for it is what burns brightly in my soul, making me, well,…me.
Being different is a self-definition I struggled with for years, but now it is something I sincerely appreciate. Who would have thought being the outsider would make me feel special as an adult? Although it is not always an easy path, I hold my differences as precious commodities. Conformity would be stifling. I want to be me, not some mythical “normal” that only exists in society, but the unique, creative me that I am in my imagination and real life.
Being “different” can have tremendous value. How, do you ask? Let me elaborate.
- My differences are a huge source of motivation. Looking back on the choices I made in life, the ones that matter most to me, I see how my desire to help others and to step outside of the box has shaped me. My spirit has influenced my relationships and career choices, and when I stepped away from being “different” and tried to please others, I was unmotivated, unsatisfied and sad. One of my very favorite jobs was working as a literary agent in a small theater. It encompassed much more than the title, and I provided guidance to interns, tickets to the public, ideas to the director, and inspiration and coffee to our actors du jour. Now, the experience I had back then motivates me to touch my creative spirit and keep in tune with my drummer, no matter how hard it can be.
- Being different makes me intensely creative. It took me a very long time to embrace what it is that makes me different. I don’t fit the mold, and that’s OK. I discovered through reading, networking and living my life that others like me were different too. We social outcasts are the creators, innovators, artists, and world-changers. We fight for the underdog, take pride in social graffiti and ask for intangible things like climate change and saving the whales. Some of the most successful innovators were excluded from school and work, so there is hope for me yet. (Think Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs and Robert Smith (yes, of The Cure)) I am going to learn from their courage and resilience to put my ideas out into the world and risk judgment. Because it only matters when those ideas take flight and are recognized.
- Being different builds bonds; it can be a source of belonging and connection. I share life experience with so many who are labeled “different.” We are the artists crying color onto canvas, the punk, the goth, the introvert, the writers bleeding words from their souls, those who stand out and stand up for their beliefs. We may not all share the same characteristics, but we have a mutual understanding that creates a deeper connection. It gives us power. We are the ones who know how it feels to be judged by our covers, left out, labeled outsiders or freaks. We are the Ally Sheedy’s in The Breakfast Club. We crave belonging but do not want to fit in. Conformity makes you sick inside. By being accepted for who we are, who I am, is finding real belonging.
- The things we have in common override our differences. We all desire to be understood. Science and a children’s book both state that we are all alike, although we are different. We all can be empathetic and be moved when we hear someone’s tale. So I’m telling my story, and you can tell me yours. By inviting each other to hear, listen, absorb and understand, we get to understand ourselves a little better. We all have hidden value in our differences.
Although I may never escape all judgment and discrimination, I am learning to value my unique perspective on life. I’m working on stopping to judge myself. If I can see others with no bias, then I can see myself the same way. And I am a work in progress. Maybe you are too.
Stay motivated and caffeinated!