Desperate to Belong
As a little girl, maybe seven years old, I remember waiting in the car for my mom to return from the grocery store. She was just “popping in to get a few things,” but time seemed to drag on and on.
My imagination took over in the black hole of uncertainty: maybe she’ll never come back. She’s probably laughing with the adults about how strange I am. They all know what I know deep inside: I’m an outsider, and I don’t belong.
I stared at the grocery store doors willing them to open, and each time they did and the person exiting wasn’t my mom, I wondered if they were in on the joke—the joke that was me.
This feeling wasn’t an isolated one for me. I often believed I was somehow an anomaly, and everyone else—every teacher, every store employee, every stranger on the street—was “in on it” in some way. I believed they could see through me to the truth that I was a strange, misfit oddity with bewildering thoughts and way too many emotions.
I spent most of my teens and early adult years cutting off or hiding different parts of my true self—pretending to like things I didn’t, practicing someone else’s smile for school pictures, ratting and spraying my straight, fine hair into oblivion— all to try to erase the pain of not belonging. It never worked; it only caused more pain and isolation.
At some point in my life, I woke up to two powerful realizations:
First, this way of life was never going to work for me. There would never be a point where inauthenticity and self-betrayal would help me belong. These actions were damaging my health and my relationships. They were stifling my soul.
Second, there are powerful perks to being an outsider, if only I dared to claim the status for myself. And so I did, and have never looked back.
For whatever reason you consider yourself or feel like an outsider, and if you’ve struggled to accept this truth wholeheartedly, I hope this article makes the effort of compromising yourself to fit in look ridiculously purposeless, fundamentally impossible, and wholly undesirable.
Six Benefits of Being an Outsider
- Able to live more authenticallyOnce an outsider, always an outsider. And the sooner we accept this truth about ourselves, the sooner we can live a life aligned with who we truly are. We can stop worrying about being accepted by others and focus on simply accepting ourselves.
I actually prefer the word “original” over the more trendy “authentic” because originality points to what was original about us—that which speaks of our earliest origins.
I can remember other times as a child, before that grocery store memory, where I felt free and whole in who I was. Before I knew I was supposed to suppress this or quiet that. That was me, originally, before the world got its dirty little hands on me.
So when we choose originality as a path for ourselves, we return to the feelings of a time before we felt separate, before we struggled to fit in. And we remember that though we might be an outsider in this culture or world, we actually belong to the larger Universe.
- The opportunity for multiple soulmate-type relationshipsThe outsider may not have thousands of friends, but the ones we have are true, loyal, and real. This is likely because our friends are outsiders too, and so we validate and support each other in that way.
Because I’ve never been able to put up a pretense for long, relationships either hit or miss for me. When they miss, it’s obvious and immediate. When they hit, it’s like meeting a soulmate. We skip the surface stuff and talk about deeper issues. We “see” each other for who we are, and this recognition is both a salve and boost of needed courage.
- Our creative spark is not from this worldWhen we’ve not been conditioned and tamed by the culture, we have the ability to create out of seemingly thin air in a way that more “cultured” (tamed) people cannot understand. Our creativity is less encumbered by trends or variations on what’s been done before. Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh are just two artists who lived on the outskirts of society and whose creativity emerged from beyond this time and place.
This creative mindset extends to how we live our lives, how we dress each day, how we engage with others. Since we don’t belong to what’s trendy and fashionable, we aren’t hindered by it. Since we don’t fit into molds and expectations, they can’t contain us. Being an outsider frees us to be rulebreakers in every aspect of human life.
- The path to self-acceptance is smootherAt least, once we stop trying to fit in and accept who we are. Because with this single acceptance of our outsiderness, all the other parts of us come into acceptance as well. Once we’re not comparing ourselves to some standard, all our quirkiness can come back to play.
Self-acceptance begins with seeing the truth of who we are. As an outsider, our connection to that truth has always been a little stronger. We’ve always seen ourselves with the lights on. We’ve likely developed a greater sense of self-awareness and self-consciousness. No matter how often or valiantly we’ve tried to belong, we’re like a spring that returns to its original shape the second we stop pulling on it.
Let yourself go, and return to your original shape. Embrace all of who you are. Enjoy the contradictions and anomalies. Give in to your whole being, and live from joy and wholeness.
- Soul connection is more palpable.If we don’t feel like we fit in here, it’s because there’s a part of us that knows we’re not really from here. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, there’s a part of us all that did not originate from this Earth. We could call that our soul. We really are all visitors, and feeling that way is likely less stressful than believing this is our permanent residence.
As a writing exercise, a group of us was asked to write a metaphor for our spiritual journey. Many writers came up with things such as a butterfly or a seashell. I came up with “A Tourist, Traveling Alone in a Foreign Country.”
When I shared this metaphor with my writing partner, she looked at me with something close to pity and said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. That must be lonely.”
While I appreciated her concern, I was confused by it, until it dawned on me that for some insiders, the experience of being an outsider does look rather lonely. But for me, my connection with my soul is so palpable that I rarely feel lonely, and I enjoy exploring this world with the curiosity of a tourist.
- Outsiders are natural game-changersPeople who fit into the culture tend to blend in with the culture. From there, there is little room to develop independent thought and voice, and little desire to see or invoke change. Why would they want to rock any boats when the world is working just fine for them? They disappear into the folds of society—not disrupting anything, not growing, not evolving.
But for the outsider who has never fit into the culture, it’s easy to see the holes in the logic and the cultural beliefs that so many others take for granted. We have a greater vantage point and can sit back, watch, and formulate ideas without personal investment. Oh, and we don’t mind rocking boats.
Any group, even (and maybe especially) spiritual groups that come together under a single identity run the risk of slowly becoming brainwashed by their own beliefs, no longer examining them on their merits but on the fact that “it’s always been done this way,” or “that’s just what we believe.”
In their pursuit of a common cause, they succumb to groupthink and exclusion. They don’t allow deviation or challenge. They consciously or unconsciously turn a blind eye to outdated rules and policies.
On the other hand, our outsider vantage point makes us natural advocates for change and restructuring of existing systems. Outsiders are more likely to demand radical change over incremental change. As outsiders, we advocate for diversity and multiplicity. We bring color and freshness to duality and droll repetition.
Outsiders walk into a group and can smell the brainwashing. Outsiders have the power to wake people up to the ways we’ve been conditioned and encourage them to once again find their voice and power.
And so we become cultural provocateurs. Hooligans. Disrupters. Paradigm-tippers.
If you’ve always believed yourself the “outsider” and have gone to great lengths to try and fit in, I hope that you now claim with pride your outsider status, for all of these reasons and more.
What this world needs is for those of us who’ve been marginalized, shunned, excluded, ignored, or teased to claim our real purpose on this earth: seeing beyond the illusions and the falsities straight to the truth. We do this in society, in our relationships, and in ourselves. We do it as natural truth-seekers and truth-tellers. We do it through being courageous and bold; innovative and surprising.
All human beings have roles to fulfill. The sooner we outsiders can accept who we are and what we can do with that knowledge, the sooner we can make this world a more creative, soulful, equitable, and accepting place to live.
Award-Winning Author & Wholeness Advocate
Author: Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness — A Memoir of New Beginnings, winner of the 2020 IPA for Body, Mind and Spirit