When I was in grade school, it was difficult for me to identify what it was I should and shouldn’t be doing. For example, cheerleading was cool, everyone else did it, so I tried it. What about wearing clogs? That was cool. I decided to ask for them. And the TV show Survivor? It was the new big thing. I watched it.
But here’s the deal. I hated cheerleading, so I quit. I never bought any clogs. As for Survivor… watched it once. But my aversion to what was supposed to be cool made me think there was something wrong with me. I didn’t fit in, and who would want to be friends with someone who didn’t know how to throw some pom-poms? I found myself stuck under this false impression for years, trying to figure out how to fix myself.
Then came high school. I found people who weren’t cheerleaders but spent their time reading Harry Potter, just like me. And get this: clogs were against the school dress code. It was almost perfect, except that fitting in was still a top priority. Fortunately, one average day I came to realize my thinking was completely off.
It happened at lunch during my junior year. There were three minutes left until the end bell would ring, so I was waiting in the hallway by the glass doors separating the rest of the school. Two of my good friends were standing on either side of me, framing me almost identically. They’re both naturally skinny, around 5’7, and even carried the same books since they had the next class together. Their hairstyles, though, were completely different; color, lengths, styles, and today, a headband versus a ponytail. Without really stopping to think, I turned to my friend and said, “I like your head.”
A second later, I panicked. “I like your HEAD!?” That was not cool to say. I probably creeped her out. I opened my mouth and hastily explained, “I meant your headband. Sorry. Long day. But, I mean, your head is great, too…” I trailed off, beginng to freak out in silence, instead.
Until I heard the amused laughter, and felt a smile start on my own face.
At that moment, the realization hit me that I didn’t have to be correct all the time to be accepted. I didn’t even have to make sense. It was ok to let my guard down. For the first time, I realized how much of a difference there was between that and fitting in. Being myself felt so much better.
I haven’t stopped making mistakes since then, and I’m aware that things I enjoy aren’t always the same as others. I still don’t like Survivor. But these days, I know I don’t have to try and fit in. In fact, I believe in fitting out.
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