“I just don’t know where I belong,” my friend told me the other day. His face told me he meant it too. But then I looked around the room and realized that there was a good chance we all felt that way. I stopped him and asked the two other people in the room. One, a quirky Chinese woman, nodded and said that Chinese people just don’t get her and that she was happy to leave her home in the south but doesn’t like her new northern surroundings. Her husband/significant other/boyfriend/person didn’t finish his response but basically said that he’s just accepted that he’s not going to find that sense of belonging. He belongs on the edge of any place he goes. Being in a cross cultural relationship won’t make finding where they belong any easier.
For one of us it was about race. For another it was about escaping the backwoods of the backwoods. For me it’s an emotional disconnect that I used to think was about intelligence but was probably just immaturity. Different causes for the same emotion, the same sense of disconnect.
When I was living in France I told an acquaintance that I had always felt like an outsider wherever I went. He told me, “That makes you a real writer.” I smiled and nodded. At the time, I thought he was dead on. He made my struggle to connect with people into some kind of coolness badge that I could wear around. I was happy to. Now I think that’s a stupid thing to say.
So I told my friend that his problem wasn’t special. I had to toe the line between him hearing, “big deal,” and him missing the point entirely. I think I got it right. It helped to have the others backing me up. That was important though. Special problems are much heavier than routine ones. Uncharted territories are a lot trickier than well worn paths. Realizing that his struggle wasn’t so unique made it manageable.
And your problems aren’t unique either. Sure, the details might be different and you might have to adapt the solutions accordingly, but the bulk of it is a human problem. One that people share and have shared and will share. Take the pressure off yourself. Open up to people and you’ll find some who feel the same. Let people shoulder some of the burden or show you the way.
You know, it’s not even special to feel special. Pretty much everyone thinks they’re a unique case. It’s messing up everyone’s happiness and career, too. The world is trying to tell you that you aren’t so different and it’s going to hurt you every time you’re told.
Worst of all, thinking you’re special in ways you aren’t will get in the way of being special in the ways you are.