“Do you have any advice for how I can build those skills?” asked a wonderfully talented and intelligent young man earlier this week. “… relating to people. I’m more of a quiet and independent person. I’m not the life of the party.”
I raised my eyebrow and struggled to hold back the surprise I felt as this young man finished his question. Me?! Heck, I’ve asked myself some version of this question a bazillion times in my life. But there I was, a young man was looking at me as if I had the answer! Isn’t this ironic, I thought. How did I get here?
In the space of a few seconds that felt like an hour, I thought about it a little more. The truth is: as I look back over my life, I realize that I sort of stopped caring about the answer to that question. Things like that stopped bothering me. I shifted focus in my life and ironically, I found that I “fit in” a whole lot easier. I mustered my thoughts, found a few carefully sorted words, and asked a few more questions.
Relating to people is a relative thing. It’s situational and personality dependent. It changes all the time. Well, sorta… The things around us change all the time, but we own at least 50% of every relationship.
This young man went on to explain what was bothering him. Something troubled me about what he was saying – a disconnect. He seemed to be focused on what he perceived to be a negative about himself and describing it as if it were a flaw. What was he thinking?
I know him to be highly educated, curious, intelligent, humble, and eager to take on the world kind of guy. He seemed to be describing an awkward, uncomfortable, and insecure person who didn’t measure up to the people around him. This guy’s asking the wrong question, I thought.
“This is a great subject,” I told him. “I used to ask myself the same question all the time.” We went on to talk for a few minutes longer. Here’s the summary:
Accentuate the positive and don’t put yourself into situations that highlight the negative. If you aren’t into singing and you don’t like big crowds and attention, don’t go hang out at a Karaoke bar on Friday nights! Maybe that’s not your thing. Maybe your thing is volunteering at a food pantry, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, or writing the next great novel. If it is, cool! Go do more of that!
Michael Jordon was arguably one of the best basketball players of all time. I would not expect to see him on American Idol, unscrambling taxes for Wesley Snipes, or Dancing with the Stars. Not to bang on Michael Jordon, he might be good at that stuff, but the environments I just described might not be his thing.
Michael Jordon fits in on the basketball court. He practices basketball, speaks about basketball, plays basketball, and could probably teach basketball for some nice coin. Do you think he beats himself up if he can’t do taxes, sing the National Anthem, or defend a criminal in court? I sincerely doubt it.
If you’ve ever asked yourself whether or not you fit in, be sure to add “where” to your question. Life is not a matter of fitting in or not fitting in. We ALL don’t fit in somewhere. Of course, we also DO fit in somewhere. The answer to “where” comes from a little soul searching.
I know I don’t fit in everywhere. Frankly, I wonder who would want to? It’s exhausting to try to be something or someone we’re not.
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