by Jan Tucker
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Have you ever felt different—like you don’t fit in at all?
Do certain things captivate other people but leave you struggling to find meaning?
What about the big picture? Maybe you feel you chose the wrong career, or you wonder if you were born into the right family—no one else seems to think the way you do.
Feeling different can be unsettling in a world that values sameness. You can derail your confidence and your progress by demeaning yourself for your differences.
I felt uncomfortably different most of my life—out of place, misunderstood, and alone. I always worked hard to fit in, fighting a constant, frustrating inner struggle with no tools to help me cope.
I always got top grades, but didn’t seem to think the way everyone else did, perhaps because my family was poor but I attended an upper-middle-class school.
I was extremely introverted and shy in an extroverted world. I kept to myself, hiding so no one would know I was different. This broke my heart because I wanted to fit in so badly.
My desire to fit in continued through college and beyond. I finally realized I was wasting a lot of time and energy by struggling to fit in. I was denying my uniqueness and my chance to create a truly meaningful life.
By hiding my differences, I short-changed the very reason I was born.
Most of us don’t realize that hiding our true nature is devastating to ourselves and to the world.
How We Get Steered Off Course
Subconsciously, we’re all searching for true meaning in life. We think of it as trying to find happiness.
Society teaches us we’ll be happy by following norms that make us the same as others. We are encouraged to seek outside of ourselves rather than connecting inward and being fulfilled by the things we love.
For instance, we learn to:
Seek approval from others to feel valued.
Compete with each other to get into the best schools and to land and keep the best jobs.
Look for partners to give us self-worth and complete us.
Strive to make money to buy things to make us happy.
Do everything to stay young-looking, valuing youth more highly than age and wisdom.
With these goals, we are constantly doing rather than being. Time disappears because we aren’t embracing life by connecting with our inner being.
We forget who we are. We are not living. We are grasping for an elusive happiness on the outside.
We feel like we’ve found happiness repeatedly, only to realize it is temporary. Each time we find it slipping away again, we search to find happiness in some other way.
Embracing our uniqueness and finding true meaning in life will break the pattern.
Take the first steps toward freedom.
Changing direction requires some upheaval. But this is your life. If temporary discomfort results in discovering your meaning and purpose in life—which leaves you feeling fulfilled, balanced, and happy—isn’t change worthwhile?
Assess your life to see if you abandoned your own uniqueness just to fit the mold.
Review the five bullets above. Are you following someone else’s path instead of your own? If so, what would you prefer to do instead? It’s never too late to change.
If you’re seeking approval or self-worth from others, learn how to find these qualities within yourself. If you’re in a career that doesn’t satisfy you, acquire the skills you need to follow your passion.
What are you doing just to fit in? What daily activities feel like drudgery? What responsibilities or tasks do you often put off or even avoid?
A long list is a sure clue that you’re not following your passion. Seeking further can help you find true meaning.
Determine what makes you unique.
We all have a passion—something that makes us light up inside, something we want to do more than anything else. We bring our own uniqueness to our passion. Following it will help us find true meaning in life.
Assessing your uniqueness takes careful thought. Set aside an hour at a time. Longer blocks of time are even better. The key is to feel free to brainstorm because nothing else requires your attention.
Schedule time on your calendar and hold to it.
When it’s time, go to a quiet place with purpose. Take a notepad or something to capture your ideas. Don’t judge any of your thoughts. Brainstorming means all ideas are of equal value.
You can be selective later. Judging in advance blocks your creativity and you’ll likely miss something you are suppressing or something new.
Some questions to ask to uncover your uniqueness are:
Which activities cause me to completely lose track of time?
What am I always trying to find time to do even when I only have a few free moments?
What makes me really happy?
What matters most to me personally?
What are my top five values, and why?
Once you have thought through and listed all your answers to these questions, list each answer on a separate line. Ask yourself what parts of your life feel most and least aligned with your favorite activities, passions and values.
Record and study this information closely to find clarity.
Leverage what you’ve discovered.
It’s time to follow your heart, honor your uniqueness, and discover your true meaning. Gather your answers and decide how to incorporate this newfound knowledge into your life.
Maybe you uncovered a passion you’ve always suppressed. For example, I always loved writing, but I only pursued it indirectly in the form of business writing because that was a practical way to earn a living.
Business writing is not my favorite form of writing, and it never satisfied my desire to write. But now that I have my own business, I’m writing the way I’ve always wanted to.
I’ve combined writing with my other passion of pursuing better ways to live. Now I’m excited when I write, I’m fulfilling my purpose, and I’m helping others.
Seek further if your passion still eludes you.
Maybe you’ve squelched your uniqueness for so long that you can’t find your truth. If you have more questions than answers, that’s great! That’s when it’s time to experiment.
Answers can come from many different sources, so cover a lot of ground. When you find clues, you can piece them together to form your plan of action.
Ask others what they do, find books and other resources to read, seek professionals to help you, join a group of like-minded individuals, take a class, or ask the universe. Use your creativity to reach out broadly. The answers will come.
Start exploring one area that calls to you. Try something creative such as art, theater, or science. Begin looking for solutions to your biggest problem, or reach out to help someone else. Life holds many right answers. Seeking and finding them is the fun part.
When I began my search for happiness, I looked everywhere. I even opened my mind to things I thought were illogical, like aura balancing. I was surprised when I discovered that I could actually feel negative energy being pulled out of my body by someone using a crystal.
That incident sent me to seek spiritual answers. Ultimately, I found my answers through the teachings of yoga. I was so motivated by these teachings that I moved into a meditation center for a year to pursue them.
This brought me around full circle, proving that I really am different—and because I found my passion, I learned that being different is completely okay. This changed my life radically.
Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb with your search. You never know where it might lead you. It is far better to follow your heart and be different than to struggle to try to be the same.
We all have differences in a world that values similarity. When fitting in means suppressing who you are and what you love the most, you miss your opportunity to connect deeply with yourself—to live, shine, find true meaning in life, and offer your unique talents to the world.
By opening your heart and mind and being completely free to explore what matters to you, you will learn who you are. Next time you find yourself holding back to avoid standing out, realize that you add value to the world.
Never be afraid to follow your passion and blaze new trails. It’s important to have faith in the process of life. The trick is to realize and embrace your uniqueness. By doing so, you will be led in the direction you were meant to go.