Common wisdom, as it turns out, is neither common nor wise. If one idiom tells us that “birds of a feather flock together,” then why does another tell us that opposites attract? And as we make our way through this crazy world of ours, we are faced with another contradictory quandary.
On the one hand, many of us aim to be someone special or exceptional. On the other hand, there is a burning desire to be normal and not to be labeled as the oddball. This cognitive dissonance can lend itself to much undue stress and angst.
Addressing the Teenage Dilemma
You face a number of different psychological issues at different stages in your life. As a toddler, you might build up a sense of autonomy. As a young child, you may fight with a sense of feeling competent. And during your adolescence, the challenge can oftentimes be developing a sense of identity. Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I fit into this world? And then you’re hit with that awkward dichotomy.
To many teenagers, whether they are willing to admit it or not, they yearn for a sense of belonging. High school cliques are formed because of this desire for fitting in. When you have this group of friends, you feel like you are a part of something that is bigger than yourself. Fully investing into the clique, however, means that you lose any real sense of individuality. And individuality is still important, because the most important part of you is you.
Be Yourself (But Don’t Do That)
Somehow, the highly divisive and sometimes toxic culture of high school manages to manifest itself in the bigger world too. We are simultaneously told to be ourselves, but then we are also told that we must conform to cultural norms. Why aren’t you going to university? Why aren’t you finding a well-paying job? Why haven’t you gotten married, had 2.5 kids and purchased a house with a white picket fence yet? And if you don’t adhere to these norms, you’re constantly reminded that you’re not fitting the mold, passively or otherwise.
Through it all, you don’t really want to be told what to do, but you still yearn for that sense of belonging, acceptance, and fitting in. As I embarked on my unconventional career path, I was constantly reminded by many people around me how unconventional it was. I’m still here, all these years later, and I feel I’m better for it.
Forget About Fitting In
At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself. Every time you go around wearing masks for the sake of everyone else, you sacrifice another small piece of your true identity. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to belong. If the “group” doesn’t accept who you are without that some sort of mask, then maybe it’s not the right group for you.
Stay true to yourself. Whether this means you stand out or you fit in, so be it.