Do you sometimes feel that you just don’t fit in? I am happiest when I am slobbing around at home in scruffy jeans, reading a great novel, writing, spending time with my nearest and dearest or playing with my dogs.
But sometimes, when I look at what others are doing: dressing up, going to parties, drinking cocktails and shopping for designer clothes – I feel painfully different from many of the people around me.
I’m not good at social chitchat: I always seem to wear the wrong things and say the wrong things. It feels like there was a class at school on how to dress and behave at social functions that I missed out on. It can make me feel that I am just not like everyone else and I’m not good enough.
I know I am not alone in having a hard time to fit in society’s expectations.
I have a friend whose family are always asking her when she is going to ‘settle down and have kids’. Also, people often ask my teenage son, a talented photographer, whether he is looking for a ‘proper job’.
But recently I’ve realised that there is room in our world for many different kinds of people. There is not one way of being successful or happy – there are a million ways and all we have to do is find our way.
Here are four strategies to help you find a sense of belonging in the world and in your life:
1. Finding your tribe is more important than ‘fitting in’
Honestly, if you have to change yourself to fit in with a group of friends, then they are the wrong friends for you. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them, they are just not a good fit for you.
Instead of changing to meet the expectations of others, spend your energy on finding your tribe: the people that think in a similar way to you, have similar values to you and like to do the things that you like to do.
Finding your tribe is like coming home. Suddenly, you don’t have to pretend anymore. You can be yourself and others love and appreciate you just the way you are.
You can find your tribe online, by joining groups with interests that inspire you, or out in the world by following hobbies or helping causes that are close to your heart. I have found my tribe in the online writing community and by joining a local conservation group that protects the woodland near my home.
2. Learning what makes you happy is more important than trying to fit someone else’s idea of a successful life
Unfortunately, many of us spend time thinking about what we ‘should’ be doing, rather than allowing our hearts lead us in the direction we really want to go. There can be a lot of pressure from peers, family members and society to take the acceptable paths of study, getting a good job, earning money, achieving promotions, having a nice home and car and then perhaps marriage and family.
It sometimes takes great courage to stop and think about this path and decide what elements we truly choose for our own lives. If we define accomplishment as having these things, we limit what success can be for us. Perhaps success for you is having an afternoon each week to paint, or hike in nature. Or maybe it is having a great circle of friends who really ‘get’ you and where you truly fit in.
Your idea of success could include being your own boss, traveling or doing charity or environmental work. When we don’t limit ourselves to the ‘sensible’ options we are free to find the work and relationships that will truly make us happy.
3. Aim for a meaningful life
Much of our focus on outward signs of success such as making money or shopping might come from an underlying fear that our lives are meaningless. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, said that ‘When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.’
Simply by asking the question ‘is this meaningful to me?’ we can begin to look at our lives differently, choosing activities for their inherent satisfaction rather than for the approval of others.
Doing activities that are meaningful to us enriches our lives and gives us satisfaction far beyond that which we can achieve by meeting others’ expectations.
It is possible to take meaningful actions every day and they don’t have to be big world-changing activities, simply recycling more or upholding a beloved family tradition can add to our sense of meaning. The important thing is to choose things that are really meaningful to you.
4. Choose to serve your own values rather than society’s
When you think about the acceptable paths as prescribed by society, consider whom they serve. Getting a job with a monthly pay packet might seem to serve you, but actually, you are just using your talents to make money for others. Buying designer clothes or fancy cars might seem to be rewarding you, but actually, you are lining the pockets of big business.
And countless studies have shown that materialism doesn’t make us happy anyway. I’m not saying that having a steady job or buying nice things is wrong, I’m simply suggesting that you question everything and act upon your own desires rather than society’s expectations.
When you choose to do the things that serve you, rather than politicians, big businesses, and even family and friends, you will being to live a more authentic life and discover a deep sense of belonging that can never be found by merely fitting in.
If you think that you don’t really fit in modern society, let us know in the comments below.
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