Some of my earliest memories include wanting to ‘be like everyone else’. Like all children, I wanted to belong. Short of that, I simply wanted to be – be comfortable with who I was, be like the popular kids, and feel good about the way I looked. Even then, I wanted to be at peace. It seemed I was desperate to fit in. If only my clothes were cool, my parents were hip, my brothers were handsome, and our car wasn’t a station wagon. As I grew older, conforming to society’s standards just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me even though I continued to try. Try as I might, I couldn’t believe everything I heard or keep up with the current fads. I couldn’t sit through hours of mass on Sunday when all they talked about was ‘him’. It wasn’t happening. I was the square peg and I wasn’t fitting into any round holes.
Ironically, our society pays lip service to being unique. Industry urges creative problem solvers to apply immediately. Institutions of higher learning agree that they’re looking for ‘tomorrow’s leaders’. Fashionistas maintain they want to look original. Every focus group I’ve ever participated in encouraged fresh ideas. But where is all this outside the box thinking? We say we want creative ideas but do we? Education simply recycles the same model used for years. Politicians are ousted and ridiculed for suggesting new approaches. In so many ways, we all want to hide behind ‘normal’ in order to not stick out and not draw attention to ourselves. It can be heart-breaking to feel alone. After all, it’s no guarantee that we’ll be a beautiful swan someday.
For many with social anxiety, I realize this is a painful and not just uncomfortable issue. We tend to over exaggerate how comfortable anyone is in social situations, especially amongst strangers. And we over analyze why we don’t fit in and how much others notice our discomfort. But I finally came to the conclusion, for myself anyway, that I was overthinking ‘what others thought’. I’ve seen a few cartoons that remind me that most of the time, what I think is going on isn’t. Don’t believe everything your mind thinks is one of my favorite bumper stickers. Cliques and social groups will be everywhere, all your life. That high-school mentality is not one you want to allow yourself to get sucked into and whether you share the same interests or not, it’s OK to be unique. But if practice is something you think would improve your social skills, there are plenty of lonely people in the world – the sick, the disenfranchised, the homeless. I know every one of them would hang on your every word! So getting outside yourself might be a good start. In spite of the heartache this has undoubtably caused you, reaching out to others is never a bad idea!
For me, once I had children and had others to think of more than myself, I didn’t have time to dissect social situations or care too much about those that seemed to have everything. I can’t speak for those that do fit in. I know so few of them although my health club seems filled with them and my neighborhood suggests that their lives are a lot more beautiful than mine. I can only surmise however that their lives aren’t as simple as it sounds on paper. I worked for a woman who was perfect in all those ways – beautiful, wealthy, well-connected, smart, and popular in all social situations. She was also a neurotic, obsessive compulsive with passive aggressive tendencies who thought everyone was after her money. Those years taught me that we all create our own beautiful lives – or not. The grass only appears greener from the other side.
Now I am finally learning to embrace my distinctive qualities and hopefully have the courage to not only think outside the box but feel good about it as well. Now, as an older person, I realize I am hardly alone AND that I don’t want to follow what society dictates as ‘normal’, hip, cool, and trend making. I know now that I never really wanted that anyway. I worried needlessly and pitied myself because what I thought I wanted. It was a waste of time, really.