Finding Your Fit (and sometimes failing)
When we are young we all want to be told that we are special.
We want to know that we stand out among the sea of the others and that we are indeed a unique snowflake. And it’s partly true. No one person is quite the same as any other.
Perhaps the thing we should have been told when we are young is that we are all our own puzzle piece and you need to find your fit.
And now, at nearly forty, I continue to be a floating puzzle piece trying to force myself into professional puzzle after puzzle and hoping one day I will truly fit.
I am outgoing, always have been. I moved around so many times as a kid I nearly lost count. With each move came the challenge of making new friends. It didn’t help that I was a pudgy kid with no neck and buck teeth and a haircut that I was convinced would make me look more like Mary Lou Retton (the haircut did me no favors; I looked strange).
My parents were real with me, “Ok, so you’re not the prettiest pumpkin but you’ve got moxie. So, go out on the front lawn and play alone. Just look like you are having the time of your life and other kids are going to want to play with you”. I put on a snowsuit, went outside and (perhaps, madly) bounced around to indicate the fun I was totally having in sub zero temperatures. And damn, it worked.
Some kids were swept up in my enthusiasm and joined me (or their parents told them to take pity on the strange-looking new girl and go make friends), the world will never know.
But, they came out and played and we made friends. The lesson stuck: I put myself out there and look like I am having the time of my life and people tend to want to join in.
It worked in high school (at least to a small group of great people) and again in college, where I truly felt I was dropped directly into the right place — people got me and I got them.
The real world has been harder.
We all want to make friends. We want to feel like we are amongst our tribe. But sometimes no matter how hard we try, we just don’t fit in.
Suddenly, we can all be that chubby kid with the weird hair all over again, but this time no one is bouncing with us.
Personality-wise, we are who we are. That doesn’t change.
So, you have to ask yourself, “If I don’t work here socially, should I just do my work? Should I not be social at all and hide at my desk?” Some people are able to do that. They have a great life beyond the 9–5 and are just at work to get things done and collect a paycheck.
I will never be that person. Work will never be 9–5 for me and I need to be engaged with work that I love. I need work friends. I’d take one friend.
Theater girl that I am, I felt odd working at The Met Museum. I worried I would never feel like I belonged.
When I first went there I was overwhelmed by people drinking tea and wearing scarves and discussing Asian Art. By the time I left, I owned seven new scarves, was an equal opportunity caffeine addict (coffee or tea for me) and knew more than I ever thought I would know about the influence of Asian art on modern fashion. I morphed to fit into this new environment while never once forgetting who I was. I hadn’t changed, but had adapted to my new place.
At the end of the day, The Met was among my favorite jobs ever. I made more friends there than I ever thought possible. These friends have remained in my life a few years later. We all had different passions, but everyone I worked with was passionate. And passionate people make work wonderful.
Other jobs have not been as inspiring a story. I have eaten lunch alone at my desk, given waves that went unreturned and smiled at plenty of people who never smiled back.
I wish someone had told me when I was starting my career, to not only find my fit skill-wise, but find my tribe culturally. When you spend over 70% of your waking adult life at your job, you better like not only what you do but who you do it with.
But, maybe figuring out who you are and where you can belong, is something we all need to figure out on our own.
So, the next time you feel like a puzzle piece alone on the floor, or the lonely kid bouncing on the lawn, take heed. There are a many roads we can take to find our way home. Your fit is out there and may even surprise you.
Regardless of where you are right now, make sure to look like you are having fun. Someone kind and passionate is sure to reach out and be your friend.