Today I’m answering a question from the fourth school to enter the AskNicolaMorgan competition. (Deadline tomorrow – still time! Please enter!) Today’s question comes from Y8 students at Fearnhill School and once again I found it very difficult to choose which of their questions to answer. But fear not: I plan to answer lots more questions once I’ve answered one from each school.
“What if being me excludes me?”
I’ve interpreted the question as meaning, “What if the way I am makes me different and makes people exclude me but I’m trying to follow the common advice to ‘be myself’? How do I cope with that?” (I hope I’ve got that right.)
This question made me feel a little sad, as it make me think that the questioner might be feeling rather alone, an outsider. But I could be quite wrong about that: what if the person actually feels empowered, individual, standing tall and strong and confident in his/her difference?
But I’m guessing the questioner doesn’t feel too good, at least most of the time.
Being “different” is tough for anyone and it can happen in lots of ways. People feel secure when they fit in, when they conform to the groups around them, and that’s a very natural thing to do. We get safety and support from fitting in but sometimes we can’t fit in, either because there is something quite unusual about us and the people around us don’t like or accept that, or because we are unlucky enough to be in an environment where most people happen to have different lives or happen to be closed-minded and intolerant of difference. (They need educating!)
It’s really important to feel that you can “be yourself” so you don’t have to pretend. But it’s also psychologically and emotionally important to have a support network – or even one or two people – who you do feel connected to. The active feeling of standing out is anxiety-making and discomforting. We may sometimes like being noticed but some of the time we want to be ignored – specifically, we want to be noticed when we want to be noticed and we want to be left alone when we want to be left alone! People who are “different” don’t usually get that choice.
There are some things to think about, which I think will help:
- Be patient: being at school is tough, partly because everyone around you is wrapped up in their own problems and struggles for identity, but one day soon you’ll have left school and will have many more choices about your friendship groups. You will be able to find people who are like you or who genuinely respect and like you for who you are.
- Be strong: know what’s important to you and stick with it. It’s OK to conform to the people around you if you want to but not if that’s going to make you feel bad or guilty or get you into trouble. Better to be a good person than popular. (Popularity is like icing. The good person is the cake.)
- Be realistic: no one is liked by everyone. Even if you bent over backwards to fit in with everyone, you couldn’t. Focus on being accepted by the people you think are worth it.
- Don’t be self-obsessed: not everyone is actually looking at you. They have their own worries anyway. You think that your “difference” is super-obvious to everyone else – actually some people are probably really not noticing at all and you don’t actually know what they think.
- Be outward-looking: your school and family are very tiny worlds and there’s much more out there. You can find like-minded people outside, through clubs, groups, classes and activities. Seek out people you identify with.
We can try to conform/change a bit, maybe some of the time – it’s quite natural and OK to make an effort to fit in, if we want to. It’s self-preservation and a natural human instinct. So I wouldn’t condemn someone who chooses to do this. But if you decide to “be yourself”, good for you! You’ll get tons of respect once the people you’re with grow up and learn to value your individuality. I think being yourself is the best way, even if it does hurt when you’re excluded. I think that makes you a stronger, more fulfilled and confident person later, especially once you do find other people just like you.
If you do that, I have the greatest amount of respect for you. When I was a teenager I was definitely not that strong. I was an outsider, desperately trying to conform and not knowing how to. (I was a girl in a boys’ school till I was 11 and then an 11yo girl in a year group of 13yo girls.) As an adult, I’ve found how to be myself but it’s not difficult because I mix with lots of people like me anyway so I don’t really have to make that choice. And, let’s face it, I now don’t have something about me that excludes me; I’m not an outsider (though I do prefer being a bit on the edge rather than in the centre, to be honest.) But in school it can be really hard – so much going on that you can’t control, and so many pressures from people around you. And there is a large extra element of self-consciousness for adolescence so you can feel more “different” than you actually are.
So, my best advice is: be patient, be strong and look for a few people you identify with. They are out there, I promise, even if you haven’t found them yet. No one is really alone, even if it sometimes feels like that.
Thank you, Y8 Fearnhill, for your ace questions and good luck in the competition!