Fitting In

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Everyone wants to be accepted and understood. It is extremely lonely pretending to be something you’re not just to ‘fit in’. Living in a South African context with a background that no one else can really understand has taught me that your identity does not depend on where you are living, or the kind of people you’re around. You have to decide for yourself the kind of person you want to be. Unfortunately though, that doesn’t give you a free ticket to happiness.

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More and more I’m learning that people will always let you down. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault, it’s just something that happens. It’s a sad reality of the world we live in, but we have to accept that everyone is navigating this life for themselves and it doesn’t always result in a perfect relationship every time.

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Being accepted for who you are is one of the greatest gifts of friendship, but that also comes with understanding one another. Especially when two people have differing opinions, you have to work to keep a relationship strong, and that can result in some very difficult conversations. It is my belief, however, that a relationship is never allowed to grow deeper without these kinds of conversations. It helps both people to understand where the other is coming from and allows them to feel heard and valued. Without that, feelings may never come to the surface.

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Let me tell you a bit about myself… I am a people pleaser. I go to great lengths to make people feel loved and valued because deep down, that’s how I want to feel. If someone doesn’t reciprocate the same kind of effort and emotion, I assume that it’s a reflection on myself as if I’m not trying hard enough to make it work. This is why I’ve had to focus a lot of time and energy on accepting that I cannot make everyone happy. If there is a situation where I have to choose between the emotions I feel and the way someone else wants me to act, I need to do what’s best for myself.

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My brain doesn’t let me choose myself as much as I would like. I can sit here and write things like “love yourself” and “put yourself first” but I can’t pretend it is that simple. In a recent situation with a good friend of mine I had to decide if I wanted to make a situation easier for everyone involved, or to stay true to what I felt emotionally. My head screamed at me just to let it go, and to make things simple so no one had to get hurt, but my heart ached at the thought of lying to myself.

I didn’t want to pretend that I was totally okay with everything going on around me, because I wasn’t, yet the desire to be accepted rivaled the desire to be true.

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The result was a lot of uncertainty and wondering, but I felt a strange sense of peace inside me because my soul could feel safe and at home, not violated and ignored. I watched a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson in my grade twelve English course that talked about how the education system is “killing” students’ creativity. What I loved about it though was the depth of application to what he said. It didn’t have to be taken in the literal context of the schooling system, instead, I would apply this knowledge to everyday life. All of us are born with some form of creativity, it can be original thought, the use of art as a form of expression, or music, or dance. But then what “kills” this creativity is not being true to who we really are.

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Just like ignoring your personality “kills” your creativity, it can also kill your happiness. I feel most happy when I can be myself around close friends, but if I am not true to myself around others, I cannot be true to myself when I am alone because I would feel one way or another I am lying.

People can feel trapped in different situations because they do not feel like they can freely accept themselves. To do so, would jeopardize the act of “fitting in” which is something that we find to be of the highest priority in a social context. However, it is this kind of behaviour that rips us apart, because our personalities desperately want to show. The act of pushing them down and hiding who we are makes us less able to embrace our uniqueness, from which stems creativity and original thought. No matter how many times people say that you’re unique and not to let anyone change you, we’re always trying to imitate something else.

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I remember thinking that to put yourself first was selfish. I still do, sometimes, but I also am trying to learn that not being true to yourself can set you up for a lot of hardship  down the line. I think that while being accepted and understood by those around us is a wonderful feeling, it is not something that lasts. Instead, it is important to make sure that you understand and accept yourself. It’s a weird thought of having to “understand” yourself, but sometimes I react to things and I don’t know why. To fully understand why something bothers me so much, I have to fundamentally understand myself and what I value in life. Generally, if something gets under my skin, it’s because something I value is violated, and to fully understand why will help me to monitor my reactions in the future.

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We will never truly feel fulfilled if we don’t experience life through our own eyes. We cannot pretend like we are something we’re not, there is no pleasure in that. While the desire to be accepted is fundamental in our social behaviour, we have to learn to fulfill that desire with our own acceptance of ourselves. Through showing who we truly are, we can discover those around us who truly accept us, and the result will be more life-giving than imitating our version of perfection. We will never achieve our version of perfect… we can only hope to be happy in ourselves, imperfect though we may be.

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