Fitting in vs. Standing Out — an Irony

A quick excerpt from my journal on the similarities between the societal definitions of fitting in and standing out.

We naturally view the ideas of fitting in and standing out as conflicting. For example, we actively try to “fit in” when you buy that brand name piece of clothing because everyone else is wearing it, or when we start watching Game of Thrones so that we’re not lost the next time our friends or coworkers start yet another excited conversation about the latest episode. We do these things because we feel pressured to do them in order to be like everyone else. In other words, we do them so that we feel accepted — so that people like us. On the other hand, the societal definition of “standing out” is supposedly when you do something that few others do like giving a speech or winning an award. We as individuals value this definition of “standing out” outlined by accomplishments because society values them and again, by definition, it makes people like us. Perhaps fitting in and standing out aren’t so different after all.

It’s kind of ironic. There’s pressure to fit in and there’s pressure to stand out. But even standing out is another form of fitting in — it’s just fitting into a place that everyone else admires. Sometimes it’s even fitting into a place that society pressured you to fill. Standing out is only viewed as a positive when it’s something that causes you to fit in more. When you genuinely stand out for something that society doesn’t explicitly sanction — maybe it’s a personality quirk that’s well-intentioned but unusual, or a lack of proficiency in something that you just couldn’t understand despite putting in the effort to do so — it’s looked down upon as a bad thing even if it really isn’t. Character takes a backseat to shiny tokens of accomplishment. The irony thickens.

To those that stand out but still don’t fit in — be proud. You’re different. So what? It doesn’t speak to the depth of your character. On the contrary, done right, it’ll speak to your courage.