I used to be unashamedly who I was (see the girl in the picture). Fitting in was neither here nor there. Then, at some undetermined point in my history, I got to thinking that I was uniquely unusual. I used to think that my upbringing, combined with my hometown, combined with my personality, combined with my abilities made me at odds with the environments I found myself in. Everywhere I went, I felt a bit out on a limb, a bit like I didn’t properly belong. Unlike everyone else. Because they belonged. They looked the part, felt the part, talked the part, acted the part. I was the unusual one. I was the only one working hard to fit in (and boy did I work hard at that). From where I stood it looked like everyone else was slotting in just fine.
So, I worked hard to fit in. I hustled my butt off. I adapted, altered, performed, and squeezed myself into ways of being that weren’t my own. Because back then, I thought it was just me. I thought I was alone in my struggle. I thought I was the only complex mess of weirdness, the only one with a million different and diverse influences on their life, the only one who had no idea what it all meant when you put it all together, and less than no idea how to show that to the world.
For the longest time, the world around me was two-dimensional. I watched, I listened and I concluded that there were only a few pre determined ways to be a teenager/a mother/a student/an employee. That my jumble of stuff would somehow have to fit in, by hook or by crook. That my survival in the world meant doing it one of these ways. That there was no other viable option. Sure, a courageous few dared to stand out from the crowd, A rare breed of folks had a go at doing things differently. But from where I stood, they were the weird ones. They were the ones who showed the world that they didn’t fit in. They looked exposed, vulnerable to attack and judgement. I would look away from them quickly, unable to bear their willingness to be themselves. It seemed perverse. Unseemly even.
And then, about a year ago, the word authenticity started creeping into my consciousness – through the things was I reading, watching and listening to. A word which spoke of something edgy and exciting, but simultaneously spoke of a more peaceful way of being. A word that dared me to be myself, to embrace who I am, inconsistent and muddly as that may be. And more challengingly, dared me to break into three dimensions. To show myself, and take that risk.
And here’s the thing. The more faltering steps I took towards showing and being something more authentic, the more clear (and better) it got. I realised that I belong as much as the next person. That I am as unique and weird and jumbly as you are. Sure, my story has its twists and turns. It has bits that make more sense than others. In all likelihood it has different highs and lows than yours, and in all likelihood there are pockets of people out there who’ve had similar experiences to me. But my take on it, and the sense I make of it, and the way it all combines to make me me – that’s my authentic self. The way your story pieces itself together – well, that’s yours.
The only thing that’s not unique, is that we’re all unique. And if we’re all unique, then really, none of us truly fits in anywhere. Which is all subversive, untidy and a teensy bit anarchic, I know. And flies in the face of the way we’re so often encouraged to be – in the way school teaches us to dress the same, to line up ‘nicely’, to do as we’re told. And more often than not, we comply. And we continue complying as we grow. And we get a bit two dimensional in our outlook. A bit reluctant to stand out from the crowd. We start thinking that it’s just us who doesn’t fit in.
When in fact, none of us do.
Which is the best possible reason I can think of to keep daring to be authentic. And the more authentic I dare to be, the less I fit in. And the less I fit in, the more I feel like I belong.