Feel like you don’t fit in? Join the revolution
Some months ago I was sitting in a beachside café in Bali, it was my regular breakfast spot ahead of my day of writing. One morning, the owner’s son asked me, ‘hey Jo, you’re always so busy, who do you work for?’ ‘Myself,’ I answered, ‘I’m writing a book.’ ‘Ha! I thought you were doing your job.’ ‘This is my job.’ ‘Oh…’
Somehow I didn’t fit into his worldview. And for many years I didn’t really fit into anyone’s. I’d spent most of my life feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I’d turned my back on ‘conformity’, but the road towards this new non-conformist lifestyle had not been easy. For a long time I felt like I was neither here nor there — I’d relinquished the apartment, the nine to five and all the usual social trappings, only to find myself floating between worlds.
And I still feel that way sometimes. There is an expectation that we need to land somewhere on life’s continuum, to stand still long enough to be classified as this or that, but never something indefinable in between. And yet we cannot be just one thing or another, it’s not within our capacity as humans, simply because we’re born of, and into, extremes.
Black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, man and woman, square peg, round hole. We’re locked into binary thinking that does not allow for a third point to exist between two extremes. But it does, and this is where you’ll find humanity in its glorious inconsistency. This is where you’ll find yourself and your essential individuality.
This third point is where right and wrong reach agreement, man and women reach acceptance, black and white merge. It is where we find our true potential as humans and individuals. So why force anything into any kind of conformist hole?
One look at my social feed and I see how we’re obsessed with hacking life’s secrets rather than letting the mystery of who we are unfold. We subscribe to someone else’s ideal rather than our own reality, seeking the fastest route possible to becoming someone we’re not. And yet there are no shortcuts, quick wins and overnight successes.
Every beautiful life has come to be that way through pain and plans that don’t always go accordingly. Every beautiful life is yours and yours alone.
Every beautiful life has come to be that way through pain and plans that don’t always go accordingly. Every beautiful life is yours and yours alone. Everyone has journeyed through varying degrees of doubt and any number of near misses, looking to others for clues on how to be. And this is how we end up living live life from the outside in, feeling disappointingly square in our decidedly round holes.
We’re not helped by the glut of motivational bloggers forcing their prescriptive worldviews upon us, outlining what we must and must not do if we don’t want to fail at life. They operate on the assumption that we’re all hardwired to chase their idea of success. And so it goes, success and failure. We don’t allow for the variance in between. We don’t allow for life’s ebb and flow, for the joy in the different and the small; for the quiet space in between the epic adventures. We deny ourselves permission to define where along life’s continuum success sits for us, as individuals.
Moreover we’re not required to prove or improve anything. Life’s only request is that we explore our own potential. Improvement says you’re not enough. Try harder. Potential says you have always been enough. You already have everything you need. And, with this knowledge, we give ourselves permission to live life from the inside out, to discover who we really are, what our soul yearns for.
I recall a training course from my previous life, a room full of souls giving their time under duress. The subject matter left us uninspired, lacklustre, yet we were required to know it in order to get on and tick the right boxes. And yet my fellow trainees didn’t really fit into any box.
A gent from Gambia told me how he’d secured Unicef funding to give girls an education in his hometown, yet here he was on the office treadmill of appraisals and assessments. Another man, softly spoken, told how me he’d saved a company thousands in energy consumption, Mother Earth’s humble warrior, shrinking simply to earn his wage.
We spend so much of our professional lives bullshitting our way into jobs we don’t want. We seek references from those who wield power over us, and overlook the power of self-reference, of knowing our true worth. We’re required to round out our edges and lose our edge. Yes, we need ends to meet, we need our bread to be buttered, but we also need to feel alive — lit up like those men telling me of their proudest moments. Each of us has a gift that could contribute to humanity, not just the economy.
Let’s stop asking what do you do, and start asking what do you dream of doing?
So let’s not round out our edges but soften our definitions of success and failure, conformity and non-conformity. Let’s allow for life’s nuance, our nuance. And let’s stop asking what do you do, and start asking what do you dream of doing? Even if it’s been done before, no one will have done it like you. There’s never only one way to do anything; there is never only one way to live your life.
Let’s start a revolution.