You stick out like a sore thumb. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you don’t fit. And after a while, you wonder,
Where will I ever fit?
Does anyone want me? Will I ever make it?
As a caveat, I still struggle with being different from everyone else. I don’t write this because I’ve succeeded.
I write this because I still struggle with being different. I always believe that anyone who writes something they still struggle with will write something more genuine, authentic, and real.
When does this happen?
This awareness of being different comes at different times for people. It may be:
- Feeling like you have few friends or meaningful relationships
- Having relationships that don’t work out
- Having persistent rejections during your job applications
- Not being employed
- Feeling left out at work
What does it look like?
I’m sat at my table. I look up at the clock. It’s 104PM. It’s lunchtime. I look around the office. There’s no one around. Where’s everyone? I wonder. It’s okay. I will head out for a walk.
As I walk past our office next door, I see my colleagues having a hotpot. Their laughter filters out of the window they’ve left open to allow for circulation. I’m not sure what to do.
Do I walk in to interrupt them and invite myself? Or do I pretend that I didn’t see what happened, and go on with the rest of my life? Walking past the office, I choose to go for a walk.
Feeling left out is never a nice feeling. Maybe you have personal problems at home that stop you from connecting with colleagues. Or you’re depressed at work. Or you may even feel un-enthusiastic about what you do!
As Harari argues in his great book, Sapiens, the basic idea of human relationships is to form groups.
In-groups and out-groups.
Humans have a tendency to form groups for social support. In the past, it made sense because bigger groups meant more protection against the wild.
But that also means that once these in-groups are formed, those who are left out may be seen as intruders.
The in-group closes its ranks deeper to prevent infiltration and possible harm.
Whilst you may think that this sounds ‘too much’, it may be true. That’s why you feel so different from everyone else.
This in-group ends up dressing the same, speaking the same, and doing many of the same things. You do what you usually do, but you feel even more different from them.
It’s a vicious cycle. The more you feel different, and focus on that feeling, the more you detach. The more you detach, the more your relationship muscles atrophy, and your social skills weaken. And when you go out into the real world again to connect with someone, you may experience the slight discomfort again, misread it, and end up withdrawing again.
It’s a dangerous vicious cycle.
How does it feel like?
It feels horrible, doesn’t it?
It’s that chill that runs down your back when you go to a new social setting, and everyone is holding their glasses, talking in groups.
You’re standing awkwardly in the middle, wondering how to look like you’re not this loner who no one wants to talk to.
How do you overcome it?
We all want to know how to overcome it. And in this article, I do want to share principles and not quick tips that you can use.
These are not going to be quick hacks.
Rather, it involves a new way of looking at yourself. That takes time. there’s no quick hack for that. For that to happen, we need to understand why this happens.
Why does this happen?
You can go into your past and study all the times you felt abandoned by your parents, go for therapy, understand your past better, make sense of it, and move on… or you can look at the present and shape a better future for yourself.
I’ve gone for therapy for 5 years. After 5 years, I sometimes wonder if therapy is addictive. If it’s possible to ever ‘graduate’ and move on from it.
As I’ve looked back about ‘feeling different from everyone else’, I observe three things. Take this with a pinch of salt. These are my experiences, and the understanding that has helped me to move into concrete action to resolve this.
I am rather self-absorbed.
Too self absorbed. I haven’t been very successful in human relationships. I’m the odd one who stands at the party, wondering how best to fit in. I always think,
Why am I so different from everyone else? What more do people want from me?
When I’ve focused on how different I am, it hasn’t been helpful in building greater fit with the wider group.
Let’s face it. Everyone is different. Each one is made uniquely.
It’s whether they choose to focus on that or not. And for those of you who may struggle with feeling different from everyone else, you may be focused more on how you’re different, rather than how you’re similar.
I used to look at how ‘special’ I was, rather than how special everyone else was too!
I have a superiority complex.
I think of myself as better than others.
I’ve been applying for jobs recently. Each time I’ve gotten rejected, I’ve ended up saying,
I’m a first class honours! I studied overseas!
I’ve been a board director!
I’ve written books!
I’ve spoken to hundreds of people!
What more do they want?
I’m so different from everyone else! Why won’t they employ me?
That’s my superiority complex speaking. He’s saying,
John, you’re the best in the world! You’re so different, so special, so unique!
When you find yourself focusing on how different you are from everyone else, you may end up focusing on how much ‘better’ you are than everyone else.
- Are others beneath you?
- Are they not worthy of your time?
- Are they not smart enough for you?
These were questions that struck me – because in hindsight, I saw how I judged people prematurely. I thought they were a waste of my time.
And that’s not very nice.
So how do you overcome it now?
See the good in everyone
Focus on the points of similarity, rather than the points of difference.
In overcoming how you feel different from everyone else, take time to see the good in other people. It will help you to see that whilst we are all different, there’s something all of us can contribute to each other’s lives.
Grow a thicker skin
Yes, it’s going to take effort to talk to someone you don’t know. But try.
What’s the worst that could happen? They could laugh at your attempt in approaching them, and not talk to you again.
It’s okay. You won’t die.
In a recent conversation I had with someone, it was a tale of two halves. For the first half, I focused on how different I was to everyone else. I spoke about how no one wanted to employ me, how I was different from every colleague, and how special I was.
I sounded like a wet blanket. A really wet one. It was a good thing my friend didn’t walk away.
But during the second half, I was tired of being a wet blanket.
I wanted to engage with life, be happy, joyful, and smile! There was more to life than focusing on how different I was.
You’re special. And you can make life special by focusing on how special others are too. That way, your special-ness isn’t just kept with you. But it’s shared with the world.
Thank you for your great article! I loved how you mentioned about growing a thicker skin, that’s really important in my own experience! I’m just wondering: how do you stop judging others?
Thanks for that question! To stop judging others, I find it helpful to assume the best of them. For example, I will think to myself, ” What if this person was doing the best he could?” Hope this helps!
I love the authenticity in this post. I have to admit, I’ve been thinking of myself as better than others now that I come to think more about it. Thanks for pointing that out!
Thank you for your encouragement! It’s great to hear that you’re now thinking about how you can see the good in others!