Someone once told me to write about what I know, so here’s this:
I’m good at not fitting in. I do it all the time. But humans need to belong, so I do these things to make people think I’m a normal human being.
1. Improve your small talk
No matter where you are or who you meet, people will ask you banal, stupid things like:
“What do you think about this weather?”
“So what do you do?”
“How about them [SPORTS TEAM NAME]?!”
Ready for a good strategy for dealing with this nonsense?
Make it your mission to find out as much as possible about that person in 30 seconds.
Oh, you think you’ve got questions for me, Mr. How’s It Hanging? Well I’ve got questions for you too! What’s your life like on this planet? How is your family? What do you mean by “I’m doing ‘okay?’” Why are you just okay? Thought you were entering into a casual little chit chat, well YOU WERE WRONG!
Ask people questions. Then ask them more questions. See how many questions you can ask in a row. That’s how you win at small talk.
I’ve done this so much it’s like my super power. I can’t get on an airplane without discovering the life story of the person next to me.
What an interesting species, I say to myself, nodding politely as I hand a tissue to a woman who is having a tough time with her boyfriend.* I’ll have to remember this question I just asked to see if the next person reacts the same way.
(*Yes, this is a true story. I‘ve also met:
- A Roller Derby team from Minnesota whose captain is married to a heavy metal singer
- A doctoral candidate from Kansas who also freelances in how-to training videos because “teachers get paid shit and that other stuff is too easy.”
- A girl who deleted all the apps (including the email one) from her phone because she was “tired of the drama”
- An older couple who have written two books together and whose “retirement” plan is this product, a badge which measures if you are getting enough vitamin D during the day. That website looks a lot better than it did when they first told me about it, so things must be going well)
And who knows, after you play 20 questions, you might actually find someone you like. Bonus Feel-Good Points*? Don’t mind if I do.
*Don’t freak out. We’re about to cover these*
2. Go deep in your relationships
After we’ve figured out a way to get food into our stomach and hide from all the tigers, Maslow says we need to feel loved before we can really do anything else in life.
This is obviously a challenge for people like you and me. After all, if we’re going to have to check off that “human approval” box, we’ve got to do it some way.
I chose to go all in. I rely on Kate for comfort, encouragement, and love. She is my confidant, my first council and the audience for my terrible jokes. I’ve put all my chips in with her. If I died, she’d have plenty of friends and family she in which to confide. If she died, you’d probably never hear from me again.
Many people are scared of this type of relationship, and I get it. It’s hard to trust people. It’s scary. But odds are if you don’t fit in with most people, you’re going to need to get intense with the people you do.
This isn’t philosophy, it’s math.
We can quantify Maslow’s point about humans needing love. We’ll call them Feel-Good Points. Everyone needs 50 Feel-Good Points to feel whole in this life.
Suzie Cheerleader fits in with 99 out of 100 people. They all love her. She’s got Feel-Good Points coming out her ears!
But it doesn’t work that way for you. If you only like 1 out of every 1,000 people, odds are, you’ll be endlessly scraping the barrel for Feel-Good Points.
Unless your relationship is good enough to squeeze all 50 of your needed Feel-Good Points out of one person. Get it?
Go for depth in your relationships. Width is overrated.
3. Know yourself
Most people don’t know what they’re good at. I wish they did. Because then I wouldn’t have to explain this to them:
- You are a unique human being
- With a different combination of skills, emotions, experiences and abilities than everyone else on the planet
- And it’s time to stop selling yourself short.
Bill Gates didn’t fit in, now he’s a billionaire.
Mark Zuckerberg didn’t fit in, now he’s ripping down walls to virtual reality.
Terry Crews didn’t fit in when he was painting pictures of his teammates in the locker room, now he’s one of the better known actors in the game.
Not fitting in gives you a lot of alone time, which generally leads to one of two things:
i) Raging narcissism and paralyzing hatred toward the rest of the world.
ii) A healthy self-respect and a legitimate assessment of your attributes.
Now that you’re aware of the first one, pick the second one. There are few things more powerful than knowing yourself.
Make it your mission to know these things:
- Know what makes you get out of bed in the morning
- Know what you can offer the world
- Know what kind of spouse you are (or aren’t) looking for
- Know what elements make up your perfect day
- Know how you can take one step toward your perfect life
- Know who your favorite people in the world are
The closer you get to yourself, the closer you can get to others.
4. Discover “the big secret”
Forget weed or LSD or opium, the notification badge is the drug of this generation, and we keep coming back — searching for a little piece of the validation we’re starving for.
Please, just one more hit.
I talk to dozens of people a day on Twitter and Medium and Quora and Snapchat. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. But I come back for more every day. Hoping someone has loved my latest article. Hoping someone is sharing my work.
Please, just one more hit.
After childhood, most of us sit on our own island. It is a badge of courage to want for nobody. We don’t call it “loneliness,” it’s “independence.”
But in reality, we are
- and isolated.
In a world where all our predators have been neutralized and our food source is largely taken care of, we thirst for the love and approval of others. We crave it.
I used to cry to my mother — wondering why I didn’t have a girlfriend. I used to ask my dad when he started dating. I used to sit in the corner of geometry, jealous of all the high fives and laughter going on around me while I sat alone, doing my schoolwork. I hated math. But I still understood it better than people.
Eventually I realized the secret. The last survival element to not fitting in:
It’s one of the big secrets in life:
Nobody feels normal.
Nobody feels like an adult.
Nobody fits in.
Do you want to know, then, what the real solution is to fitting in?
Make other people feel like they fit in.
Go out of your way to make people feel wanted. Make yourself uncomfortable for the comfort of others. Give when you don’t have to. Compliment when you don’t want to. Love when you don’t have to. Forgive when it’s not expected of you.
Because then a funny thing happens.
Then you start feeling like you may just fit in after all.