I remember when I was around 10 years old and crazy about Karate. All the other kids would play soccer, rugby and cricket while I would practice my kicks day in and day out. Occasionally, I would also join them in playing some of the regular sports. I even tried out for the soccer team at school, but ended up mostly sitting on the bench. I was the reserve because I decided that goal of the game wasn’t merely to try and score a goal, but it was to trip all the other players. I was an odd ball, and in many ways I still am. The big difference is that as a kid being an odd ball felt uncomfortable. Part of me wanted to fit in with the crowd. As an adult, I honestly couldn’t care. What changed?
I look back at all the odd balls I knew from when I was a kid, and I can’t help but notice that most of them are pretty successful- at least as far as I can tell. I also noticed that most of the boys and girls that were once popular, hip and happening, are now dead or gangsters and will likely end up dead pretty soon, homeless, or have several fatherless kids with a host of different men. It looks like those kids who were different also had a greater influence over their own lives. They learnt from very early on how to march to their own drum. Eventually they would grow up and find people who were like minded. They would form their own social networks- and I don’t mean on social media J
There are nearly 8 billion people in the world, and believe it or not, we’re not as unique as we think we are. Even if you really can’t get along with some folks that are in your environment, there should be at least ten thousand people (maybe I’m exaggerating) around the world that would love to chill with you. Nowadays, with the advent of social media and international travel, it’s not hard to network. All things considered, there isn’t a better time than our time for you to march to your own drum. There are always going to be at least a few people who would happily march along with you.
More often than not, your peers do not pressure you into doing something good for yourself. Most of the time, pressure doesn’t involve long term gain. Rather, it often involved temporary pleasure. Your peers might pressure you into trying a new drug, drinking another round, getting a bit of casual sex in here and there. You don’t often see peers putting pressure on you to get up at 5am to go for a morning run. You don’t often have peers who say they aren’t going to hang with you this weekend because you have to study for your midterms. If you have peers like that, you should probably treasure them.
Keeping the group together is not without its merits. Part of what we need is to fit in. Fitting in helps us navigate the societies we live in, and it also helps us build up important social capital. However, fitting in should never be at the expense of your personal integrity. It shouldn’t cost you the things you attach the greatest value to. Sure, wearing a suit and tie isn’t going to change who you are. Neither is wearing a kilt, a shorts or an abayah. We can change our appearance every day, and learn the social customs of any society we find ourselves in. It won’t change who we are, and that’s fine. That’s called social cohesiveness and in that way we can fit in. If, however, fitting in means that you spiritually, emotionally and physically harm yourself and your integrity as a human being then by all means, do not fit in. Stand out like a sore thumb, and stand proud. That kind of fitting in isn’t fitting in, it’s sacrificing yourself for the blind imaginings of a ruined society. In that case, you are the rock, the legend, one of the few on which the new society will eventually be built. You are in the process of being the next Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Malcom X, Mother Theresa or any other person you might fancy has having stood his or her ground. That’s who you are. Just be!