Everyone wants to fit in. We learn social cues early on. As young as preschool and kindergarten age, we want to have friends and know we have a place in this world. That longing is magnified in junior high school, when it becomes more important to fit in with one group or another. And it extends into high school, college, and even the workplace.
But have you ever encountered someone who didn’t quite fit in? What did you do in that situation?
I passed a gal in a hallway at work who had a scowl on her face. Her body language said, “Don’t talk to me. I’m having a bad day.” So, I said a silent prayer for her and left her alone. But the next time I passed her, that scowl remained. I like to smile at people I come across, so I flashed her one. She didn’t smile back.
I decided to make it my goal to get her to smile. Every time I passed her, I smiled. Her scowl stayed plastered across her face.
I found the gal at a company outing alone, scowl prominent. I decided this was my chance. I walked up to her, introduced myself, and started a conversation. I found out what department she works in, how long she’s been with the company, and that she likes her job. I also learned her name. And I’m happy to say that before the conversation ended, a smile made its way across her lips — which, of course, made me smile.
I’ve bumped into her in the hallway at work since that encounter, and now I say hi and use her name when I see her. She responds, and the scowl, her seeming defense mechanism, dissipates. I don’t know her full story, but I like to believe she just wants to fit in.
Made to Be Different
I don’t think that sense of wanting to fit in ever goes away. It’s something we cling to, even in the workplace. We forget that each of us is unique and has a different set of skills and talents. And each of those different skills and talents is needed to complement the others and make a comprehensive, well-equipped team.
Some people are better at giving presentations than others. They speak eloquently and are able to think quickly on their feet. Others are better behind the scenes, analyzing data and trends. Some are really good at engaging people. Others are better at handling tasks. Some shine with the written word. Others have a gift for numbers. Some excel at coming up with fresh ideas. Still others can think through the potential effects of those ideas and keep the visionaries grounded, balancing them out.
The bottom line is we need each other. If we were all the same, this world would be a pretty boring place. We can each learn something from those who look, act, and think differently than we do. We don’t necessarily have to agree with them, but it doesn’t hurt to explore their perspectives. It actually stretches us and helps us grow.
The next time you feel inadequate or inferior to those around you, remember they need you. You see the world differently, and that’s not a bad thing. You can open their eyes to new horizons.
And the next time you see someone who looks like he or she doesn’t fit in, I hope you’ll reach out to that person and help him or her form a sense of belonging. You’ll be glad you did.
Christian, wife, mother of 5, breast cancer survivor, marathon finisher, writer and editor, author of "Help! I'm a Science Project"