I published a podcast episode that I thought might make me come across as someone who is disgruntled, angry and possibly judgmental. I published it anyway. Why Because it was how I felt, and had been feeling for a while.
The episode was titled I Don’t Fit In, ( I will link it to this newsletter) and it combined the feelings that I have now along with many of my feelings growing up. So often in school, I never felt like I fit in. There were the cliques of kids that always gravitated towards the “cool kids”. Whether we would like to admit it or not, we all have times where we really want to be accepted by the popular people. And if we follow that urge, we might actually get some of that attention that we crave.
When I was in elementary school, I remember having this urge. There were a dozen or so guys that seemed to have it all figured out. They wore the best clothes, they went to the pool and to events together after school and on weekends, and the girls and even the teachers treated them like they were better than others. It was obvious to everyone that I wasn’t one of them. I knew this way back in the second grade. One of the girls in my class wanted to play with me everyday at school. From the moment that a few other girls came over and told her not to play with me because I wasn’t one of them, I always felt a bit left out.
The biggest insecurities I still deal with come from the constant feeling of not ‘being one of them’ from those years. It’s probably why I resonate so much with the story of the underdog, to not follow the crowd and to make sure that success can be made by not following what is popular. Often, to my detriment. There are times that I so desperately do not want to follow the crowd that I miss out on wonderful opportunities. Social media is a great example. Because everyone says you need to be everywhere on social to make it, I wanted to prove that you didn’t to be successful. It worked- but it was a little silly because I could have used social in a better way and still did it my way.
As painful as my school years were, I wish I knew more information before I got so down on myself. The night of my high school graduation, I attended a wild party at a home of one of the cool kids. It wasn’t until graduation that I was able to join them. In an amazing blend of moments and personalities, I wound up talking music in the living room with one of the guys that was a part of that group. I recall leaning in because I was not only enjoying the conversation so much but also sad that we had gone to school together all of these years and never said more than a few words to each other. And this was pretty much the end for our class- we were all moving on now.
He surprised me when he asked me about my music collection and how he had heard that I had the best assortment of music in our school. I was stunned that anyone in that circle talked positively about me and even was giving me compliments! Time flew as we discussed albums, music styles and concerts we have attended. I said to him that we should have talked in ninth grade! He agreed. Maybe it was the beer talking from the multiple tapped kegs in the backyard, but I basically said that it’s probably because he was one of the cool kids and I was one of the misfits.
He rolled his eyes and leaned backwards, looking away and then back at me.
“Man, that is such a bunch of garbage” he said. “We’re all the ‘cool ones’, everyone thinks. Do you know how much people talk behind each others backs? Do you know how petty it can be with how much money their parents have, the clothes they need to have, the cars we drive to be a part of it? There is so much pressure to follow along, to do what everyone else is doing. I am so excited to get out of this.”
After our long, overdue conversation, he came back to my drunken point because he knew I felt pain from all of it.
“You won’t believe this,” he said, “but there is a part of us that wishes we could just be ourselves like you guys can.”
That pretty much left me stunned. They wished they could be like us? How much different would my school life have been if I would have known that years earlier? And I see it now in the online business world. Once again, I feel like I don’t fit in. A friend who runs a major conference, who brings in so many well known, popular and influential speakers, told me that it saddens him how fake and phony so many of the people going on stage are. They know what sells, or what the audience would go for. They are funny, vulnerable and likable on stage. Yet off stage, so many are completely different people.
If I need to be someone I’m not, than I guess I won’t ever fit in. This time, though, I am more than cool with it. I had my moments of trying to fit in with the cool kids at school. Those experiences left me feeling inauthentic, not myself and I learned that pretending to be someone else didn’t get me into their group either.
But if you can be your real self, and create something of value around that, you will find your people. The ones who appreciate you for who you are, not for how you pretend to be someone that you aren’t. And if you can do that and create your own little corner of the world for the right people, you might find out that you actually are one of the cool kids- and for the right people this time.