Updated: Mar 2
Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t fit in. That was me. I joined the Unbound community and quickly realised I broke every single stereotype of the typical Unbound student. Homeschooled? Nope, never. American? Neither. Between 15 and 23? Uh, noooo. Veggie Tales, Chick-fil-A, LOTR, and tacos? Never heard of, read, watched, or ate any of those. Christian? Not even that, sorry. At least I speak English. Despite not being a bunch of typical Unbound things, I was still many other things. Thus proved an interesting conundrum: how to fit into this new community into which I clearly didn’t fit while still being very much me? Through trial and many stumbling errors, I learned how to fit into the community in my own way. I blended in while still being who I was. I’ve since watched some Veggie Tales clips and can now boast a Chick-fil-A selfie, but blending in isn’t about being the same. I’ll never fit in completely, but most people never feel like they completely fit in anyway. Maybe you’re faced with a similar situation. You’re in a new community of some sort - maybe it’s a new workplace, a new church, or even a new family - and you don’t feel like you fit in. You want to, but you also want to still be who you are. No matter what circumstances you find yourself in, here are some tips and ideas to help you fit in while staying true to yourself. Simply keep reading; I did all the hard, confusing, and existential work for you. You’re welcome.
How to Fit In:
1. Find Common Ground
While you may not be exactly like everyone else, there is almost always something you can relate to. People are people, and finding common ground is not only possible, but a great way to connect with others. Focusing on how you’re alike instead of how you may be different is vital when it comes to fitting in.
2. Learn the lingo
Communities often have their own vocabulary, with words, expressions and references developed over time and sustained communication. Learn those terms and expressions as quickly as you can so you can better understand conversation and start to sound like a native. It’s hard to fit in if you don’t know why everyone reacted a certain way to a specific word.
3. Observe the social norms
Take the time to observe the social norms of the community, then mimic them and see how you’re received. It doesn’t hurt to keep watching and noting and adjusting. To fit in, you’ve got to act like you do.
4. Pick your battles carefully
You’re going to find areas of disagreement. There will be things you don’t like. That said, this is your community now so be cognizant of which battles are worth getting bloody over. Most aren’t.
5. See people as people
It’s simple, but it bears stating anyway. When you’re in a new community and you’re struggling to relate to the people within it, remember that they are in fact people just like you. See them that way, interact with them that way, and relate to them that way. It’ll make your relationships much more authentic and meaningful.
How to Stay True to Yourself:
1. Reconfirm your values
It’s helpful to reconfirm to yourself what your values are so that you don’t lose sight of them. While some communities won’t challenge them, some will and in order to stay true to who you are, it helps to know what you hold valuable and why.
2. Don’t apologize for who you are
If you’re different in some way, that doesn’t mean you need to be apologetic. By being confident in who you are, your new community is much more likely to embrace your uniqueness too.
3. Take time away
When you’re so wholly involved in a community, it’s much easier to forget other parts of yourself. Take respites to reconnect with yourself and others outside the community. It can provide much needed perspective.
4. Talk about differences
Don’t be scared to discuss how you may not fit in. While common ground should be the focus, respectfully discussing differences can lead to healthy dialogue and a better understanding for yourself of who you are, as well as who your new community members are.
I hope these tips help ease the transition into your new community. If you tackle the challenge with a spirit of adventure and a dose of humility, you should be well on your way to fitting in as your wonderful self.
(Oh, and the end of the story is the girl is still working on happily ever after, because really, life is about striving.)