When Being You Makes You Feel Like An Outsiderfeatured

The Outsider by JJ Shaver

Have you ever felt that you being truly you makes an outsider?

Years ago, when I quit engineering, literally the day after I got my PhD, no one really celebrated my determination to live according to my values.

When Michelle (my co-parent) and I finally stopped living together as a married couple, some people treated me as though my relationship had “failed.”

In my work as social critic, things I write about climate, race and gender justice can make friends–even liberal friends–bristle.

While a lot of people are seeking to turn right in their lives, I find myself turning left a lot. It takes a lot of inner strength–strength I sometimes feel I don’t have–to go my own direction. Sometimes me being truly me makes me feel like an outsider.

What about you?

The other day, I was at a kind of recovery movement meeting I go to, and a person talked about getting an advanced degree and being so happy at having finally found just the right romantic partner and about having a child. It was a testament to the person’s growth and development, coming out of a life of near-ruin, and everyone celebrated their victory.

Including me.

But as much as I felt happy for them, I felt self-conscious about the way everyone was making a big deal of what they’d achieved. It was such a “American dream” type victory. The person had achieved what we are all “supposed” to want and everyone was being nice about it.

But what if there were people in the corners of the room who didn’t want to follow that standard approach to life?

I do think this person deserved to be celebrated. They had grown and recovered wonderfully. My question is: Should we be celebrating certain benchmarks of success–the advanced degree, the romantic partner–or should we be celebrating the personal growth, in whatever form it takes?

You and I may have really “successful” lives, according to our own values, but not want to move towards the benchmarks people seem to celebrate. What if those benchmarks aren’t a sign of authentic growth for us? What if while everyone else zigs, success for us means to zag? What if us being us isn’t like everyone else being everyone else?

I don’t want to celebrate only cookie-cutter “success.” I want to celebrate authentic personal growth and service to others. I want to celebrate when people expand and become who they are truly meant to be. I don’t want to celebrate fitting into a mold (unless it truly does fit).

When I quit engineering right after getting my PhD, though people questioned my choice, it meant moving towards a life where I contributed more to others. When Michelle and I stopped living together as husband and wife, it left us free to discover a way of being where we could love each other and raise a wonderful child.

What about you? What is different about you that should be celebrated? How can you bring it out in your community and use it to help others?

If you manage an organization or lead a team, how can you celebrate your people’s left turns in ways that strengthen the group? How can we all celebrate the fullness of our humanity, in all the ways it emerges?

PS If you are looking for a community to support you being you, where you won’t feel like an outsider, you should consider joining my How To Be Alive Mastermind Group, which starts in June. It’s a group I facilitate where the members support each other in achieving what really matters to them. You can find out more and apply here.


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