Someone once told me to write about what I know, so here’s this:
I’m good at not fitting in. I do it all the time. But humans need to belong, so I do these things to make people think I’m a normal human being.
1. Improve my small talk
No matter where you are or who you meet, people will ask you banal, stupid things like:
“What do you think about this weather?”
“So what do you do?”
“How about them [SPORTS TEAM NAME]?!”
This is true even in Paris, where I’m currently working. I hear this exchange several times a day:
“Comment ça va?”
“Ça va, et toi?”
I had trouble understanding how to answer this question for a while. After all, “comment ça va” technically translates to “how are you.” However, people give different answers: “Oui,” “ça va” or “très bien.” I asked my new French friend Alexis what the proper response was, not wanting to commit some sort of cultural sin.
He said “any response is fine. Really, people don’t want to know how you are. They are just being polite.”
In other words, small talk is a global curse.
Ready for a good strategy for dealing with this nonsense?
Make it your mission to find out as much as possible about that person in 30 seconds.
Oh, you think you’ve got questions for me, Mr. “How’s It Hanging?” Well I’ve got questions for you too! What’s your life like on this planet? How is your family? What do you mean by “I’m doing ‘okay?’” Why are you just okay? Thought you were entering into a casual little chit chat, well YOU WERE WRONG!
Ask people questions. Then ask them more questions. See how many questions you can ask in a row. That’s how you win at small talk. Worst case scenario, they never try small talk with you again.
I’ve done this so much it’s like my super power. I can’t get on an airplane these days without discovering the life story of the person next to me.
What an interesting species, I think to myself, nodding politely as I hand a tissue to a woman who is openly crying because she’s having a tough time with her boyfriend. I’ll have to remember this question I just asked to see if the next person reacts the same way.
If someone says “wow, I usually don’t open up to people like that,” you’re doing things right. And who knows? After you play 20 questions, you might actually find someone you like.
2. Go deep in your relationships
Odds are if you don’t fit in with most people, you’re going to need to get intense with the people you do.
This isn’t philosophy, it’s math.
If you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs from psychology class, then you remember he noted humans needing love after collecting food and building a leaf-tent to keep the rain out of our ears. For the purposes of this visualization, we’re call love “Feel-Good Points.” Everyone needs 50 Feel-Good Points to feel whole in this life.
Suzie Cheerleader fits in with 99 out of 100 people. They all love her. She’s got Feel-Good Points coming out her ears!
But it doesn’t work that way for you. If you only make friends with 1 out of every 10,000 people or so, you’ll be endlessly scraping the barrel for Feel-Good Points. Unless the few relationships you do have are good enough to gain all 50 of your needed Feel-Good Points.
I chose to go all in. I rely on my wife Kate for comfort, encouragement, and love. She is my confidant, my first council and the audience for my terrible jokes. I’ve put all my chips in with her. If I died, she’d have plenty of friends and family she in which to confide. If she died, you’d probably never hear from me again.
Many people are scared of this type of relationship, and I get it. It’s hard to trust people. It’s scary.
But if you don’t fit in, quantity of relationships is not going to be an option for you. Shoot for quality instead.
3. Know yourself
Most people don’t know what they’re good at. I wish they did. Because then I wouldn’t have to explain this to them:
- You are a unique human being
- With a different combination of skills, emotions, experiences and abilities than everyone else on the planet
- And it’s time to stop selling yourself short.
Bill Gates didn’t fit in, now he’s a billionaire. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t fit in, now he’s ripping down walls to virtual reality. Terry Crews didn’t fit in when he was painting pictures of his teammates in the locker room, now he’s one of the better known actors in the game.
Not fitting in gives you a lot of alone time, which generally leads to one of two things:
i) Raging narcissism and paralyzing hatred toward the rest of the world.
ii) A healthy self-respect and a legitimate assessment of your attributes.
Now that you’re aware of the first option, pick the second one. There are few things more powerful than knowing yourself.
Make it your mission to know these things:
- Know what makes you get out of bed in the morning
- Know what you can offer the world
- Know what kind of spouse you are (or aren’t) looking for
- Know what elements make up your perfect day
- Know who your favorite people in the world are
- Know how you can improve
The closer you get to yourself, the closer you can get to others.
4. Discover “the big secret”
Forget weed or LSD or opium, the notification badge is the drug of this generation, and we keep coming back — searching for a little piece of the validation we’re starving for.
Please, just one more hit.
I talk to dozens of people a day on Twitter and Medium and Quora and LinkedIn. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. But I come back for more every day. Hoping someone has loved my latest article. Hoping someone is sharing my work.
Please, just one more hit.
After childhood, most of us sit on our own island. It is a badge of courage to want for nobody. We don’t call it “loneliness” now; it’s “independence.”
But in reality, we are
- and isolated.
In a world where all our predators have been neutralized and our food source is largely taken care of, we thirst for the love and approval of others. We crave it.
I used to cry to my mother — wondering why I didn’t have a girlfriend. I used to ask my dad when he started dating. I used to sit in the corner of geometry, jealous of all the high fives and laughter going on around me while I sat alone, doing my schoolwork. I hated math. But I still understood it better than people.
Eventually I realized the secret. The last survival element to not fitting in:
It’s the big secret of life:
Nobody feels normal.
Nobody feels like an adult.
Nobody fits in.
Do you want to know, then, what the real solution is to fitting in?
Make other people feel like they fit in.
Go out of your way to make people feel wanted. Make yourself uncomfortable for the comfort of others. Give when you don’t have to. Compliment when you don’t want to. Love when you don’t have to. Forgive when it’s not expected of you.
Because then a funny thing happens.
Then you start feeling like you may just fit in after all.