In my school, like many, there were the inevitable tribes. There were the “townies”, the “surfies”, the “goths” and indie kids. And then there was us — the “inbetweenies”.
We were a bit of everything and nothing. We were generally smart and sporty, confident in our own way but also a little bit awkward. One thing we definitely weren’t was “cool”.
We didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in.
I was the kid who taught herself French while still at Primary School and sat there practicing for my own enjoyment. I was the kid who had the ambition and desire to do great things somehow burned into her DNA. I was the kid with ambitions to become a Human Rights lawyer based in New Zealand but travelling the world to help people overcome unfairness and inequality. I’d sit at home reading everything and anything — dictionaries (in any language) were a particular favourite. I’d just end up on a random page, work my way down and go wherever the words took me, travelling through the pages like some kind of Nancy Drew adventure novel.
I was sporty. And Clever. And funny. And creative. And imaginative.
But NOT cool.
Definitely NOT cool.
And not one of the pretty ones either — I was lanky with train-track braces on my teeth and wore my multi-coloured hairbands in such a way as to unflatteringly accentuate my ears.
But I was good at everything I set my mind to. School was easy. I represented my school and county in Netball and Athletics. I wasn’t over-the-top popular but I also wasn’t disliked by anyone, unlike some of my fellow “inbetweenies”.
When it came to university and everyone else was studying hard, if I’m honest with myself, I was cruising. I got an upper second class honours degree in Law from Kings College London with much less effort than I could have put in. And I achieved a first class mark for a dissertation module that saw me discuss food hoarding and “explosive substances”. Random stuff that I loved. And my marks reflected my passion.
I was, on reflection, just how I’d want my daughter to be (maybe without the goofy hair-do). I had friends — amazing friends — but I wasn’t clamouring to fit in with the “cool kids”. Even then I wasn’t happy to be labelled as just one thing, restricted and constrained by expectation and norms. As an inbetweenie, I related to each of the other groups and moved between them fairly seamlessly. I wasn’t a threat to anyone — I wasn’t trying to take anyone’s position. I was just being who I was and doing what I did. I existed in a fun, expressive space where I was able to follow my interests and do the things I wanted to do. And be good at the things I wanted to be good at.
And do you know what — it brings tears to my eyes writing this because I realise just what a strong, amazing, young girl I was. I knew who I was. I knew where I was going and I knew what I wanted. I was going to achieve great things. And no-one and nothing was going to stop me.
The big wide world of work
When I took my first job after university, I went into it with the same openness, vigour and impassioned determination that I had done with everything previously, expecting my intelligence, humour and enthusiasm to be rewarded And it was. To a point.
At some point, though, the expectations and noise of corporate life got in the way.
I don’t know how it came to have such an influence on me but it did.
I don’t know when I lost my way.
I don’t think it was even one single moment that I realised I didn’t quite fit in and so started to “tow the line” and act the part.
I think it was lots of seemingly insignificant moments over time that slowly but surely separated me from my sense of purpose.
I’ve sometimes wondered if maybe I was always scared of my own greatness and power and so deliberately sent myself off track — keeping myself small through my choices to take the less risky, less scary route. But I don’t think so.
All I know is that ever since I went off track — and started to try to “fit in” — I’ve been searching for my greatness again: in numerous jobs and relationships, where I gave everything and got little back in return, in hobbies that didn’t put fire in my soul. Always, always, endlessly searching.
And now, fifteen years after starting my corporate career I’ve finally found my way out onto the other side and reconnected with my purpose.
It’s not that I believe that there’s one true calling for each person. I believe our purpose changes and evolves over time as we do. But I have to admit that it’s strange to think, that I lost track of my purpose in the intervening time. I lost track of my natural strength and talent and ability — things that were so clear and vivid to me in my younger years.
If you don’t look after them they will get lost. When we try to fit in, we lose them, we lose our sense of self and we lose what makes us who we are.
We need to foster and grow our unique qualities — keep them fed and watered and loved.
Our society is not designed for people who live lives of blurred lines.
Yet we’re all inevitably blurred.
None of us are categorically black or white.
And that’s the beauty of us as individuals — we’re tones and shades. We have amazing unique skills that can (and will if we let them) carry us to greatness — allow us to be valuable contributors to how our world revolves.
So why do we so feel the need to fit in? How come so many of us are drawn to ignore our own interests and instincts in favour of not rocking the boat? Well, according to the “people in the know”, it’s all down to our ancient tribal mentalities and our need to stay alive by staying together, not being cast out of our tribe into the back of beyond to die alone and stranded.
The thing is that right now, in 2017, my belief isn’t that we don’t need people any more. We definitely do need other people in our lives to help us thrive, and even to survive. BUT — I believe our brains have just got a touch confused. As our world has expanded through the internet and various transport options, so has the reach of our real, true tribe.
And whilst there are several downsides, to not fitting in, the benefits of less pressure and stress, greater productivity, increased innovation and ingenuity and more happiness and fulfillment outweigh them considerably.
But that ONE life-changing benefit of not allowing yourself to “fit in” that I spoke of?
Well, it’s that you can hold space: hold space for belonging rather than “fitting in”, hold space for your best self, for self-actualisation as Maslow so catchily put it and hold space that allows for your greatest contribution.
Without YOU living into your potential — by holding back from “fitting in”, by waiting and holding space for your greatness and your tribe — you can’t find that belonging and can’t thrive in the way that will allow the world around you to thrive. You need to hold back so that you can really, truly lean in.
Originally published at medium.com