Would You Rather Fit in or Belong?
Looking back at a time where I tried to be everyone else but myself.
If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in. -From Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness”
Picture yourself as a giant cube. All of the people you want to be with are in a room, but the only way you get to join them is by getting through a round door. Your shape is too large, you have corners and angles preventing you from entering, yet you still want to be there. Sounds familiar, right? Your duty is to ask yourself the next question: do you think you belong in a place where you have to cut away parts of yourself in order to fit in?
Back in college, I was part of my school’s newspaper. I mostly wrote for the news section, because it allowed my inner detective to thrive. I lived for the little “a-ha!” moments where a new piece of evidence for the story came to light, among other things.
The editors were my peers, they were intelligent people I admired, and hoped to do them proud filling their shoes when I finally got a chance to run for their positions. I worked my ass off. I sacrificed every other Friday night for closings, stopped seeing my closest friends in an effort to finish stories, and spent evenings after classes to interview sources. My hard work paid off, and I became the Deputy News Editor by my sophomore year.
As the older editors were going to graduate, I got my credentials together. At the end of my sophomore year, I ran for Managing Editor, which was a step below Editor In Chief. I knew all of the writers well: their strengths, what they needed to work on, and how to bring out their best ideas. The desire for the Managing Editor position wasn’t about power, it was about making the paper better for the succeeding classes coming in.
But I didn’t win the vote.
In a desperate attempt to remain relevant, I ran for News Editor. I went against our best writer, fully well knowing that if I’d won, it’d be by a stroke of immense luck or a miracle. He was extremely talented, kind, and dedicated. He knew how to write, and he knew how to teach. While I’d like to say I share those traits, there is no doubt that he just wore it better (and he still does).
I didn’t win that vote either.
In the following year, I stuck around as a Staff Writer and Photographer. I dove deeper and deeper into photography, trying to find my own stories to artfully report on, but never quite making our back photo page with an essay. Yet my name was plastered in photo credits with each issue, even if I didn’t write the stories to go with them.
The new editing staff were still my peers, but I felt something different. While I admired them, it was not quite in the same way as I’d admired the other editors before. Looking back, of course there was envy tinged with a feeling of being slighted. It wasn’t their fault, but in my naïveté, I needed an outside party to blame in order to feel better.
Once I realized this glimmer wore off, I noticed that I didn’t quite fit there anymore to begin with. There were outings I wasn’t invited to, parties I didn’t hear about, and conversations I wasn’t included in. I was no longer part of the club, and I failed to see it. I remember, now embarrassed, trying to inject myself into these places, toxically hovering around conversations to hear about the next party I could invite myself to. They were my social group for the better part of college until they weren’t, and I refused to accept it. I thought I should be included because I was present, not believing it was because I didn’t belong.
In reflection, I found that I shaved away pieces of myself in order to fit in. I tried sharing the editor’s interests, tried taking a liking to the newest show or band they were talking about, tried taking crazy risks to stand out a little more. Looking back, it wasn’t about that at all. I was practicing being someone they would like and include, and not focused on being me. Perhaps the new editors spotted the imposter among them and didn’t want any part of it.
If you think of your own situations where you didn’t quite fit in, did you try to change your cubic shape, or did you move on? Do you decide to shave your angles and corners in order to fit through the rounded door, or do you leave to find a square door that will fit you, instead? In both cases, you have to make a fundamental change; whether it’s to yourself or to the world around you.
As I began my senior year, I left the paper completely. While my departure was painful, I was rewarded with more free time. I was rewarded with discovering the true value of belonging with people, and appreciating every second spent with them. I was rewarded with learning the importance of finding my passions and living them. Best of all, I get to be unapologetically me each day, corners and sides still intact.