I am a world-class expert at fitting in. I can walk into a new situation, look around the room, and match my attitude on politics, parenting and religion to the culture of that particular group. At the law firm in New York, I can put on the appropriate mask: a Democrat who works hard and doesn’t luxuriate around family or friends – I don’t have time, I have to work. I can wear the self-development mask: put a positive spin on every single life event, (over)share my feelings, and “be accepting” of all people, no matter how I really feel about them. I can put on the church-mask: family comes first, I’m a good person who does the right thing, and praise Jesus.
Why do I bother with this fitting in?
In my experience, trying to fit in is about earning approval from other people. Hustling to be accepted is “fitting in.” Fitting in is picking an identity, or shifting your identity, and trying to be that person, and disconnecting from your real self. (I have learned that it’s also completely unnecessary – I’ll get to that).
When I try to fit into a culture or group, I’m saying, “I really need you to approve of me, and I’m going to say the thing that I think you want to hear, so that you approve.”
What’s so wrong with that?
There is nothing wrong with fitting in, other than the fact that it is a hamster wheel that never stops spinning. And it might blockade you from transformation and discovery.
In my extensive experience of fitting in, the little lies also weigh on me, and build. Instead of getting closer to other people, I feel more isolated.
But another motivator for wanting to fit in is a very deep hunger to belong. We want to belong (which is natural, healthy and powerful) so we try to fit in (which keeps us hungry).
John O’Donahue, a very well-spoken and inspired Irish priest, says:
“The hunger to belong is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is rather sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true.”
Like a homeless puppy, I’ve attached to every stranger who showed me the tiniest bit of attention. Attractive, isn’t it? But it’s also completely natural to do, albeit misguided. The hunger to belong is more than attaching to something – which is why attaching to something, fitting in, keeps us hungry.
What if I dont want to be seen?ASK:
What kills it?
- (1) voice of fear and
- (2) voice of addiction