The Spectacular Misfortune of Fitting in


It’s fascinating to me, that no matter how much you may think you know about something, life continues to challenge and deepen your understanding on a lesson. Yes, even on a lesson as basic as trying to fit in. I for one know that no good ever came from trying to be something you’re not and I’m sure you can instantly draw from your own experiences of when fitting in only left you with feelings of misery and betrayal.

Growing up I learnt spectacularly the misfortune of trying to fit in. None more than being in high school. Navigating the obstacles of a South African private school as a black kid, which for the most part was as complicated as any high school I also had the added bonus of trying to be culturally appropriate in those spaces. If you’ve ever had the experience of being other, even when you yourself don’t view yourself as such, eventually the reality of your circumstances demand that you sometimes see yourself in a light that others do.

It’s only really in high school I understood the concept of race. Realizing that as much as I felt that I was like every one else, lost and confused and just trying to do my best at school, there was also the intangible burden of carrying the terrible stereo types of an entire nation of people. Sometimes such a weight can be so heavy that you may want nothing more than to conform. So that’s what I did and it was exhausting.

Eventually I would shed away the identity of a girl who was trying to be softer and embraced my vibrant personality. I let people know who I was because it felt right and anything less than that wasn’t an option. It paid off in the end, even if it meant bumping heads with the school a few times. I was becoming my own somebody and nothing beats that feeling.

As with most human experiences we can take for granted the importance of a life lesson. We can dismiss our growth, thinking we just knew stuff not realizing that there was a time when we didn’t know what we know now. We forget the reality of something we learnt because we think we’re bigger than those lessons, we look at it as something in the past that can’t really touch us because we’re older and we know better or so we believe .

Last summer I wanted nothing more than to fit in, I can’t really tell you why, but perhaps it had to do with wanting to run away from the girl I was. For over a year I’ve had to deal with the heaviness of trying to find myself in a new country, trying to follow my dreams and it hadn’t quite unraveled in the way I had hoped. So I guess I just wanted to fit in and allow myself to be swept up in what was already out there.

And for a while it really worked, I felt emboldened that I was “cool girl”. I went out all the time, partied it up, and couldn’t tell you sometimes what day of the week it was. Everything became a blur, throwing myself  into the abyss of the warm summer air in Washington DC, where every night could potentially be the best night ever. But just like anything that is not real, it slowly begins to reveal itself.

Nothing like a good old drunk person who says their most sober minded thoughts to bring you back to your reality. There I was minding my own business and one of the people in my new found group felt it upon themselves to let me know how “pretty” I was but how “absolutely annoying” I was too. Yeah I know, we still have such people, but what’s surprising is that I agreed with him. I was annoying in the sense that I knew better but here I was taking nonsense from a person who probably didn’t even know my last name.

Eventually I was rejected from that life. I was lucky. Most times we hold onto things longer than we should because we’re terrified of who we’ll be without it. Like a break up. Instead of trying to go back to who I was before this whole mess I figured I could find the things I did like and merge them with who I am now. I don’t regret trying to fit in because it’s brought me to a better place of compassion for myself.

Trying to be better everyday is hard. We’re tempted all the time to take the easier path and sometimes that’s all we want, to feel a lightness. I find though, that it’s in authenticity that we find our light. We feel content even in the face of difficulty because there is gold in allowing yourself to just be. Before you know it, the right people start showing up and that makes all the difference. So I guess that’s what making mistakes can be so awesome, we keep getting the opportunity to learn about ourselves and those around us. The spectacular misfortune of fitting in. Did I say misfortune?