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.
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.