How many stories have been told of successful people that had to overcome “not fitting in” at some point in their lives to get to where they are today? When you let that thought sit for a while, it seems common to discover that your favorite singer, author, or public figure had never been the most popular kid in grade school, always familiar with the potent feeling of “being different.”
Take Ed Sheeran, for example. The man who reigns as on of the most successful, raw, and chart-topping singer/songwriters of this decade described himself to James Corden as having been an “unfortunate-looking kid,” which set him apart from others growing up. Sheeran could have let this realization hinder his success, fearing that he was too different to achieve his goals in the music industry. Instead, he fully embraced his appearance and started tirelessly singing out on sidewalks and in train stations with only the goal of becoming a successful musician in the back of his mind. The same fiery, red hair that set him apart as a child became his own, personal trademark when he finally made it big in the music industry.
What we can take away from Sheeran, among many other famous success stories of this nature, is that, despite being drastically polarized, feeling different and being successful seem to be directly linked to one another.
Why is this so? Why on Earth does one have to face the perils of social isolation to achieve exceptional success? Why is it more common to see an unassuming wallflower “make it big” later on in life than to see someone who has always fit in do exactly the same?
Growing up, this special group of wallflowers may have been considered outliers from the norm. Maybe they were seen as being “weird” or having only a select few friends. Or alternatively, they may have appeared to have a big group of friends, attended parties, or even—dare I say—“fit in,” but if you ask them to recount the emotions they felt throughout these experiences, they would describe a feeling of detachment. Maybe they were physically apart of the “in-group,” but mentally, they were dreaming about something more meaningful. This caused feelings of isolation to sprout, despite being physically surrounded by others.
I can say that I have been in both positions. There have been points in my life where I’ve felt like a social alien, completely walking the road alone, and other times where, to others, it would appear that I had “fit in,” as I was surrounded by a large group of “friends.” In both cases, the persistent feeling of being different remained.
There were times that I wanted myself to fit in so badly because I thought that I would finally find the “cure” to the dissatisfaction I felt from having unconventional dreams and goals for myself. But I felt that with each mindless interaction that I faced, each soulless party that I attended, and each time I chose the “normal” or “safe” route, I felt even more detached from myself. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, and there was nothing left for me to do but to reflect inward.
The sting of isolation is enough to leave anyone hopeless at times. You start to feel that you can’t win with or without them. You know that your interests, differences, and goals may not coincide with those of the people surrounding you, and you feel conflicted. You know that it would be easier to dull yourself, to suppress the parts of yourself that stick out like a needle in a haystack, but deep down, you know that these parts of you could lead you to great things in life.
Although dark and stormy, this feeling of isolation is what allows for fantastic growth. Here lies the answer as to why those who don’t fit in end up achieving great success:
That’s why only a handful of people become one of “the greats” in their field of choice. It’s how Ed Sheeran became Ed Sheeran. It takes a special type of person to overcome the sharp feelings of isolation: someone who is driven, resilient, and unique. Most importantly, it takes someone who doesn’t remotely care what anyone else thinks of them.
The same person who withstood the pain of not being the popular kid in high school will be able to withstand those who criticize their prose as being too “different” to be successful. The same type of person who reveled at the thought of changing their unique sense of style at age fourteen will be able to tune out the naysayers who doubt that they can make waves in the fashion world. The same person who never fit in may still never do so. But eventually, they’ll learn that this is to their advantage.
So if you’re feeling ashamed because you feel different from those around you at this current point in time, know that this is actually a sign that great things are to come, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the moment. The quirks that set you apart, the dreams you have that others would deem to be outlandish, and your innate desire to follow your natural instinct—these are the things that will set you apart. But the road to success would be congested with traffic if you were to ride it with everyone else.