By: Ella R.
If I don’t make an effort to fit in, I thought, I won’t.
At some point, most of us deal with struggling to fit in or feeling like our true selves won’t be accepted by others. Not only is this, of course, unpleasant to experience, but, if it goes on for a long time, it can make you lose a lot of confidence in yourself and really struggle with who you are, regardless of the source of your insecurities. For many years, I was fixated on trying to fit in with everyone else. Oddly, many of my insecurities have concerned tiny aspects of my life. On my first day of kindergarten, I remember being horribly self-conscious of my backpack, which was a very different style from those of most of the other girls. No one said anything unkind about it – if anything, I got compliments – yet I couldn’t help but feel awkward and unsure of myself. Yes, it was just a backpack, but it planted a message in my mind: you don’t know how to do the simple things that everyone else does. Everyone else seemed to have parents or siblings who helped them find appropriate kindergarten get-up; it was just something they knew, something that they didn’t even think about. If I don’t make an effort to fit in, I thought, I won’t. I believed that being myself meant standing out, not in an interesting, unique way, but in a shameful way, the same feeling of an awkward silence, someone not getting a joke.
I was very lucky to grow up in a diverse, supportive community, where parents and teachers and other adults told you, “it’s okay to be different” and “just be yourself.”As a kid, I wanted to believe this, and I did go through periods where I would be proud of the things that made me different, or so I thought, from many of my friends, or people who I wanted to be my friends: having two moms, not caring about my hair or nails, climbing trees, preferring reading to TV, and going camping. In middle school, at a much larger school, this confidence began to fade. People around me began to bond over shared experiences, listening to certain music or going certain places, nothing out of the ordinary. I was already shy, so I hated the feeling of standing out, even in a small way, and so I retreated from the people around me even more. It wasn’t that everyone I knew was the same type of person, that anyone who was vaguely different was isolated – looking back, this was not the case at all; there were many different personalities and interests at my school. Rather, I was so convinced that I was weird, in the worst, most off-putting way possible, that I was certain that I didn’t belong anywhere. I remember having an overwhelming feeling of regret for my previous confidence in my “strange” habits and quirks – I felt that it was too late now, that, even I tried to fake being “normal,” it would be obvious that it didn’t come naturally, and everyone would see that I was an imposter. I had a bizarre hope that my life had all been a dream, that I would wake a toddler, knowing how to act so that I would find friends and finally feel as though I fit in.
Over the years, I’ve begun to have more confidence in who I am. I’ve realized that, as simple and cliché as it may sound, everyone is different. Everyone has different personalities, experiences, perspectives, and habits, and that really is what makes each person who they are. You don’t need to be just like everyone else in order to fit in – mostly because there is no “just like everyone else!” Of course, some people have more things in common than others, but, at the end of the day, each individual is unique in some way; that is what makes you someone, as opposed to constantly trying to imitate another person. Again, this concept is not very complex, but it took me a long time to fully understand. There is something so incredibly special about being an individual, about being you, someone completely and totally unique from everyone else. Not only did realizing this give me more confidence that I was worthy of having friends and feeling accepted, but it also encouraged me to honor that part of myself by doing things that I truly enjoyed and spending time with people who made me feel good about myself – regardless of whether or not this seemed to be a “normal” thing to do. In the end, this has left me much more satisfied with my life and with much more respect for myself as well.