Why Not To Fit In

I've always had trouble walking. Born severely pigeon toed, a brace between my feet pushing them out was my nightly routine. In grade school I had trouble standing flat footed so I literally walked on my toes. Predictably, kids at school made fun if me. They imitated my prance as they called it and teased me for wiggling my butt when I walked. Each morning when I woke  to searing pain that meant I had trouble standing. Noticing the discomfort, my parents took me to a doctor who said my Achilles' tendons were too short for my legs. There were two options: costly surgery on both legs or play sports—an attempt to stretch and lengthen my achilles tendons. My parents chose the cheaper route: sports. 

I spent a year in a sweaty gym in gymnastics class even though I could barely do a cartwheel. When the coach suggested I try a sport where I could excel, my parents picked softball where my twin best friends and I  joined a team.. The Blue Bombers. Predictably, I was the player no one wanted on their team. I was that girl. Forced to play every player regularly, my job was relief catcher. I was played only when a win was assured and then only for one inning. Flying softballs regularly bounced beyond my grasp or pounded against the chest protector I wore. The experience might have been called les miserables.

My parents were only trying to solve a medical issue. Still, I got stuck in a place I clearly didn’t belong. A nerdy klutz with a bunch of jocks. I felt like a fraud. I knew everyone else could see it.  I only lasted one season before I begged my parents to stop the humiliation, let me retire and go back to what I really loved: writing short stories and copious hours with a book firmly planted near the end of nose. 

This sordid tale of my athletic failures came flying back recently when one of twin friends posted a picture from my season on the Blue Bombers. 

The Blue Bombers

The Blue Bombers

That's me in the front row. 

The one wearing a long dangly necklace. 

The only one wearing jewelry. 

I was standing out. 

But not in the right crowd. 

I grew up in an era that celebrated conformity over standing out. Today we’re much more accepting of difference, celebrating different paths to happiness. And yet. It’s remarkably easy how we can slip that mask on. It just seems easier. It suits one of your goals.  I’m gonna guess the money one. 

I’m betting that most school sports teams have at least one geek—maybe that was you—feeling forced to fit into something you had zero skills for which you hated. Maybe today you’re still fighting against your nature or trying to fit in. Perhaps you write crazy unconventional blog posts--that you never publish. Or you have a wacky idea that you're afraid will never make money. Better to get that steady paycheck than take a risk that might lead to a colossal failure right? 

Perhaps you consider yourself a creative thinker. Things are going well for a while but then you realize you need to make some cash. So you notice what the other "creative thinkers" do. You begin to mimic them. You figure out the formula. Conformity sets in. Now you're just like every other supposed creative thinker rather than yourself.

From the wise words of a teenage movie…
“Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?"

Then go congregate with your real people. Once I let got of the false crowd it was easy to slip into a place that felt like wrapping up in a cozy blanket. 

Standing out for being the square peg in the wrong hole. 

No need to conceal, mask or shape shift. 

Stand out while being in the real you.

How to Handle FOMO in Three Steps

I'm betting that like me, you might have some experience with the feeling of being left out.

The ache in your stomach. 

The feeling of having missed out. 

That sense that somehow this means people don't like you.

That somehow you don't run with the cool crowd anymore.

And you didn't even know you cared about being cool or liked until the missed event greeted you with it. 

When I was growing up in the days of VCRs (if you were lucky), answering machines and computers that were only used in a lab at school, fear of missing out was definitely a thing. But back then it didn't have it's nifty acronym or linger long. Going to school the day after the big party you missed felt awful sure but the feeling went away soon.

Maybe you made a desperate attempt to assert your likability. In those days you might have thrown a killer party. The modern counterpart might look something like jumping into the tweet storm - a vain attempt to not miss out. 

This feeling is commonly known these days as FOMO -- Fear of Missing out. According to this study, 56% of social media users have experienced FOMO. Sometimes it's instigated by an uber cool party you missed. Perhaps it's a former acquaintance who always used to return your tweets but there's only tweet silence on their end.  Maybe you're like me, feeling left out when reading the announcement of a startup securing a massive exit -- specially when it was an idea that you had but somehow just never got around to doing yourself.

In an era of always on social media, FOMO can be a pretty persistent problem. If you're like me, it can mushroom to a daily or even hourly feeling if left unchecked. 

So, What To Do About FOMO? 
One day a while back a friend and I were both suffering from severe FOMO. Both Twitter induced. He, from the launch announcement of a startup he was involved with in the early stages. My FOMO incendiary mo2013-10-23 21.27.33-1ment was discovering a couple of acquaintances (who I hadn't talked to in a year or more) unfollowed me on Twitter. I admit it, I wondered what I did wrong for a couple of minutes. I probably, maybe thought about launching a campaign to win them back. Then I realized the stupidity of these thoughts. Instead of worrying and trying to be cool I could just stop whining and go do something interesting. It actually worked.

There are loads of problems that take complex solutions. Or at least a multitude of steps to correct. The solution for FOMO is actually relatively simple.

Three steps to navigating FOMO

1. Time box it. Sob into your latte for 5 minutes.

2. Take a social media break for at least an hour. 

3. Then stop complaining. Go be awesome.

Creating an awesome product, blog post, work of art or even an animated gif is the surest way to cure you of FOMO. Why? Being super engaged in your life, doing what makes you lose track of time renders FOMO irrelevant. 

Every time the FOMO siren lures you to the rocks -- rinse and repeat these three steps over and over again until you've steered your way towards something productive.

The bonus to this plan is that you're bound to be much happier too. Way better than wallowing right?

Waiting for the Other Shoe

"You're waiting for the other shoe to drop. You're so tangled up in your fear that you're not really experiencing the job of what's happening in your life right now."

We'd just sat down to a delicious meal when my friend delivered this wisdom. Although my life was flowing like a river out of the Rocky Mountains I was having a hard time enjoying it. I was fretting. Pacing. Worried about events that hadn't happened yet. Her words stopped me mid-sentence.

She was right.  (Damn it)

Life was so good for me -- better in fact, that it had been in months. And yet. I was waiting for that other shoe to drop, crushing all that long-sought happiness. My happiness was being swallowed up by the fear monster. The perceived pain I was feeling felt real and yet--it wasn't. It was just phantom pain I was reliving from the past even though that I wasn't in the past--I had moved forward to a new time continuum.

If you're like me, you might tend to focus on the shoe rather than the joy. But focusing  on what seems like a precariously placed shoe isn't going to make it stop from falling.

Waiting for that shoe to take it's tumble exacts a cost.
It tightens your chest making it hard to breath.

It closes off your heart.
It distracts you away from what really matters.
It squeezes the joy right out of your life and everything in it.

The only thing that can stop the shoe from falling is out of your control. Shoes are gonna drop sometimes and it's okay. You will be ok. You always have been and you always will be.