I was a weird kid. Instead of playing tag at recess or gossiping with the other girls, I used to play with my imaginary friends and go on adventures. There were puppies who asked me to adopt them and friendly vampires who taught me how to fly.
One day in fourth grade, the other kids saw me playing alone and invited me to join their game of tag. They clearly misread my independence as loneliness and felt sorry for me. But I declined. I was having way more fun on my own.
They kept asking me to join in, day after day. I wasn’t sure why. Most of these kids were otherwise pretty cruel to me and it didn’t seem like they had any interest in actually including me in anything. It was more like my desire to do my own thing bothered them in some way. They didn’t understand it. But I had no interest in their Philistine games of tag and soccer. And so I continued to play in my imaginary world.
As we grow up, we are taught to hide our true selves
As you might expect, this rejection of their invitations to play did not make me very popular. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong or why the other kids didn’t like me. (Just a side note- I did have a handful of other “uncool” friends who also didn’t care about fitting in.)
After a while, the teasing started getting to me. The comments about my velcro shoes and rainbow leggings, the soccer balls aimed at my head in gym class, the snickers when a group photo would come back and one of the kids had been intentionally blocking me so that I wasn’t visible in the photo.
Slowly I learned that it’s better to be silent and fit in.
Blending in will ruin your life
I told this story because I wanted to illustrate something: that from a young age, we are taught by our peers that standing out invites ridicule. This desire to be “normal” only intensifies in high school. (Though thankfully in grade nine I transferred to a small alternative school with other really smart non-conformers and that was a godsend!)
What I realized as I got older is that it wasn’t just me. No, not everyone was bullied in elementary school, but most of us have had this same message drilled into our heads over time anyway. We picked it up in the culture.
As a result, most of us are terrified of standing out and claiming our place in the world. People will do what is expected of them. They will go to college because they should and work 9-5 at jobs that bore them, all to avoid having to reveal that part of themselves that might be a little different from everybody else. We are so afraid of being different.
But slowly, a sort of quiet desperation will take hold. They’ll start to hate their lives and wonder what the point of it all is. They will have wasted years working unsatisfying jobs, telling themselves they had to “be practical.” All those dreams they had when they were kids and all those things they wanted to do with their lives? Ridiculous impractical fantasies and not the way you’re “supposed” to behave–like the kid who plays with vampires on the playground.
Feature your uniqueness
The only way out of this dreary existence is to embrace those things that make you different and unique. True fulfillment comes not only from being yourself, but from showing yourself to the world. Feature your eccentricities and your passions and be unapologetic about it. Recapture who you were as a kid, long before society began its crusade to make you feel bad for just being you.
I will end with this little gem that popped up on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago:
Your success is directly entwined with how much you embrace your true nature.
– Everett Bogue