I switched schools entering the sixth grade. My parents were unhappy with my prior one. It was strange being the new kid in a crowd who had known each other their entire cognitive lives.
“Are you fitting in?” was a question I always got from adults who were curious about how I was handling the change. This idea of fitting in was really the only one presented to me. That became my goal.
I did an okay job of it that first year. I was provisionally accepted by a few of those “popular” kids who ran the day-to-day operations of deciding who would be bullied. I was mostly able to avoid being picked on by sometimes joining in with them when they mocked classmates.
It was a strange arrangement. I didn’t really like them. I wasn’t even sure if they liked me, but I desperately wanted them to, mostly because of this yearning to fit in. I constantly felt pressure to deduce how they would want me to act in given situations, and then proceed with calculated behavior. My true demeanor didn’t seem like enough to remain in their good graces.
It was not a marriage that could last. On the last day of sixth grade, I had a spat with the leader of this brigade. I called him a fart-licker or something. Something really witty.
Those kids, and their lackeys I had once stood among, bullied me quite a bit over those next two years. Some days that wasn’t so fun, but I was happier. I no longer fit in, but I had never really fit in to begin with. I’d just been faking, auctioning off my authenticity in the process.
I love camping and the outdoors, but I didn’t like being a Boy Scout. I faked it for a while. The Boy Scouts didn’t end up liking me all that much either.
I used to mouth the word “watermelon” over and over instead of saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Though I generally enjoy America, I don’t care for unconditional oaths to countries. But pretending to say the pledge seemed like the only option, since I had no interest in making a scene.
I went to church every Sunday, but always felt a little queasy about Christianity and religion in general. I faked that too for a while. I got confirmed. I was afraid of being the black sheep.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was worried about trying to impress people. I’m a nobody seeking to gain access to the club of somebodies. I found myself acting the way that I thought they would want me to. But that doesn’t get you anywhere.
I doubt I’ll ever sell a script in my life if I’m stuck thinking, “What do these people want to hear?”
The somebodies are too busy and too smart to listen to an insincere pitch. I can only offer something honest and hope it’s well received.
My dear black sheep, it’s that crippling fear of not fitting in that can tempt you to disguise yourself with a white bed sheet. But if you feel you’re compromising your authenticity to gain access, I urge you to instead take what’s behind door number two.
Acting like the other kids may get you into their club, but you’ll just end up in a club that you don’t like. I’ve learned that even when trying to launch an improbable career in a tough town, you shouldn’t sacrifice your fundamental sense of self. And no club worth joining is going to ask you to do so.
It’s scary. You’ve been taught since birth to avoid making a scene. This idea of fitting in has been pounded into your head. You’re afraid no one’s going to come along with you if you wander off the trail.
Many will not come with you. Others might chase you only so they can pelt you with sticks and stones. They may bully you, or say you should move to another country, or tell you you’re going to hell.
Indeed there are some days when it will be hard. But you’ll find that people do like you for exactly who you are. In fact, they wouldn’t want you any other way. Then, you’ll realize that you wouldn’t want yourself any other way.
If you can stomach rocking the boat, you’re going to challenge things that are crying out to be challenged. You’re going to change things that desperately need changing. You might even help some other black sheep become proud of their fur.
The world needs you to be exactly who you are. The world needs you to think for yourself and not apologize for it. The world needs you to make a scene.
Frank Marasco is a first-year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com.