The concept of ‘fitting in’ has never been something that I’ve particularly excelled at.
Throughout high school it felt like ‘fitting in’ was the single most important achievement you could reach. Fuck your exam results – if you could successfully make it through a week where no one had noticed your unadulterated excitement over the new episode of Glee coming out, you’d won.
However, this was always the kind of thing that it seemed to come down to. I watched many of my friends and myself have to downplay the things they were passionate about or just outright lie about the kinds of music or TV they were into and even their talents.
It seemed that at some point we’d all collectively decided that to be ‘cool’ you needed to be an apathetic corporate copy of everyone else around you, which was further enforced by the school itself demanding that everyone follows the same path directly into a Russell Group University.
That’s going to push you into a high flying stable job and that will mean that you’ve achieved happiness, right? Maybe this path works for some but it had never been something that resonated with me, no matter how hard I tried to make myself passionate about a life of pretending that I don’t happy cry at Doctor Who and that the Hamilton soundtrack is the closest I’m ever going to come to actively listening to rap music just didn’t seem like the fun life I wanted for myself.
So I made the decision to go off-piste if you will and applied for what I really wanted in life which was to go to drama school and I somehow ended up getting in to a Foundation Course in Acting. Finding out that I had gotten in to drama school was easily one of the most joyous moments of my life.
However, in the months and weeks leading up to actually arriving at my goal destination, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of dread that I couldn’t shake. When moving into university halls I experienced the most intense anxiety that I have ever felt. My arms were numb, my accent disappeared and again I felt that desperate need to just not stand out – just blend in and whatever you do don’t be different because in my mind ‘different = wrong.’
It seemed like everyone I was meeting was so comfortable, immediately clicking with anyone they met, and their conversations flowing as easily as if they’d been friends their entire lives. As cliche as it sounds, it’s only when looking back that I realise that everyone else was in a relatively similar state of mind and was also just looking to meet some nice people to have a laugh with.
Yet, at the time it took me so long to be able to properly break down my fears and insecurities and stop myself from feeling constantly on edge, ready for anyone to turn on me and reveal that ‘surprise!! It’s all a joke, we actually hate you – see ya never!!’. There were honestly times that I just wanted to give up and have a nap because clearly, I was never going to fit in, it just wasn’t possible.
Then something began to change. Slowly. But it was definitely happening. People seemed to want me around? They began picking out things about me and saying how it was funny or ‘cool,’ and after a while I realised that the things they’d been pointing out and seemingly enjoying were all the things I’d attempted to stamp out years ago and slowly but surely I think I kind of started liking them too.
I mean don’t get me wrong here, I’m not even close to being a shining beacon of self-love – but over that year being surrounded by the most positive group of friends I’ve ever had, I began to feel at ease and realise that maybe I didn’t deserve how I was being treated by others and by myself.
I know we’re all told, usually by a long-suffering parent, that when it comes to friends it’s ‘quality over quantity,’ and who would’ve called it but the parents got it right. It seems so simple to think that having a supportive, genuinely caring group around you would clearly make you feel good about yourself but I know that I for one, and many of my friends, dismissed this notion as a whimsical fairytale that you only find in American high school dramas.
But let me tell you right now if you’re stuck with a bunch of people who make you feel bad for just living your honest life – fuck them. They are not worth the time or energy that you could spend on fulfilling your passion for learning the harmonica. No one should be able to make you feel bad for liking things or for doing what makes you happy (unless you’re a fascist – then maybe have a listen to what they’re saying yeah?).
I appreciate that it can be 100x more difficult to achieve this than I’m making it out to be, I was incredibly lucky with the people I lived with and had lessons with. However, uni is a big ol’ place and what are the chances that out of the whole wide campus everyone sucks? I reckon pretty low.
So go out, join a club, take up that extra lesson in mandarin. Perhaps sign up to a fun packed charity event that promotes body positivity and allows you to have a run about in your underpants with your newly found incredible friends whilst raising money to help work to improve the lives of those living with neurofibromatosis… who knows the possibilities are endless!
My point is that if you’re feeling down about yourself because of someone else or because you’re not ‘fitting in,’ that maybe it’s the other people that don’t fit and actually you’re waiting to find your right puzzle? I don’t know, something in that metaphor works – you get the gist. Stay ridiculous, stay unapologetic and stay tuned for the next post.