I remember having one of those childhood toy boxes with the cut-out shapes on the lid, where you were supposed to fit the right shape into the right hole. What great satisfaction there was in finding the right fit. But also what frustration and confusion when you could not. Maybe you see where I’m going with this. I spent a lot of time, even into adulthood, metaphorically feeling like the kid trying to figure out what to do with the “wrong shape”.
There are so many different shaped cut-outs in our world. For me, some of those were: what it was “supposed to” look like to be from Southern California, to be a woman, an ethnic minority, an athlete, a Stanford grad, or a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And I felt like I didn’t do any of those right. That I didn’t fit in any of those spaces. I spent a lot of time trying to force my shape into those cut-outs, and spoiler alert, it didn’t work. This is what I’ve found out along the way:
You’re not Alone
Part of feeling like you don’t fit the mold is that it seems like you are the isolated other on an island of sameness. The great irony is that, in my experience and observation, both in life and therapy, there are more people than not who feel the exact same way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone tell me, “you know, Mariah? I just feel like I fit right in at BYU. It’s so seamless and every piece of me represents the model student.” There are so many different “shapes” playing in the same box, but sometimes we focus so much on that one hole that we don’t see the whole picture. It takes work, sometimes more than others; but if you want, there are other people and spaces where you will fit.
Nurture the Authentic You
The other thing about trying to fit into the perfect shape is that it just takes so much work and energy! I spent too much time trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be. I felt like a chameleon as I traveled between different social groups and contexts. One day, I had a crisis of not knowing who the “real me” was. I had to consciously identify so many things about the way I dressed, spoke, thought, and behaved and question whether that felt true to my own beliefs and values, or whether it was what I thought I was “supposed” to be doing.
One time, I visited home and was going to see some of my high school friends. I dressed in my cutest outfit and made sure that my makeup and hair looked just right. Then I saw my husband’s outfit and told him he had to change because it wasn’t “good enough”. He asked me why, and it wasn’t until then that I realized I didn’t have a good answer. This wasn’t representative of either of us. So I changed into something more comfortable and took off my foundation (most of the time, I hate just about everything other than mascara on my face). And guess what happened? Absolutely nothing. We all hung out and had a great time together. Changing who you are to fit in might work in the short term, but at what cost?
Your You-ness is What Connects You
Often times, the worry about being ourselves is that it won’t be enough or that it won’t be accepted. Hard truth: some won’t accept it. But I promise you that that is just a universal human truth and not your own personal character flaw. Cool truth: what makes you unique is what will bring you the closest to the people who really matter. Feel like a weirdo for liking fan-fiction? That same thing that might push some away will draw you closer to others. Others you’ll probably feel more comfortable around. So embrace it! Another awesome thing is that, by being yourself and by being different than the mold, it helps other people feel like they can too.
It’s scary. it’s vulnerable, and it’s a lot of work allowing yourself the permission to be you. But in the end it’s freeing and leads to a more full and connected life. You are a star, so stop trying to fit in the peg-shaped hole and shine.