On fitting in

To fit in or not to fit in, that is the question, whether it is better to suffer the slings and arrows of unpopularity or to bow down to popular pressure and conform. This is a particularly dark problem for young people, especially teenagers trying to make it through junior high and high school. Fitting in is mostly about identity, and this question of identity is really dependent on a series of factors–social, sexual, economic–of which the teenager has little control. Often, most of the parameters are in place long before the person has any say about any of them. Whether you are a brute who loves to play linebacker or an egghead who thinks Beowulf rocks, you are going to be very different people. Maybe your passion is the bass guitar, or building race cars, or digging in ancient ruins, or speaking another language, or patching up a broken arm, or whatever, but these interests will make you stand out, perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a teenager who is only trying to fit in. Are your interests the same as the other teenagers or are you different? Maybe books were not your thing in school, but maybe they were. Were your clothes the right clothes? Did you have to wear glasses? Were you thin or fat? Were you a part of the beautiful people in school, but you were always full of doubt and afraid that someone might find you out as a fraud? Did you pay the high price of changing or sacrificing your identity in order to fit it. Were you cruel to others in order to gain the approbation of your social group? Most of life is a series of compromises about identity, some have a higher price than others. There is always the nagging question about whether or not you did the right thing. Fitting in is always about whether your chosen social group will support you or not. The line which demarcates the difference between the individual and the group is not at all clear, and fitting in and the issue of fitting in straddles a fine line between what the individual gives up versus what they keep for themselves. The vast majority of people are willing give up their individuality in order to fit in smoothly and quietly, not making waves, not standing out. The teenager, the blossoming rose of youth, constantly fights to find their voice while trying to fit in and find acceptance with their friends. Fitting in is about the fear of not fitting in, about the real possibility that one is different. And that is the epiphany that everyone fears, popular and unpopular alike: the realization that one might not be normal, that one is different, that society will fear you and ostracize you, and label you a monster. So we struggle to fit in, we compromise our values, mistreat or hate others, and tremble at the thought that others might find out that we are really a fraud after all.