Have you ever felt different? Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in the crowd and try as hard as you may, you always end up feeling like a square peg in a round hole? If you have, you’re not alone. For the longest time, that felt like the story of my life. Growing up, I always felt different. It’s hard to explain but it would sometimes be in the simplest of things. For example, I was very happy as a child to bury myself in books, whether fictional or educational like Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton books and encyclopedias. Reading a book was more fun to me than going out to a party. So much so that my sisters lovingly called me a “party pooper”. When I did manage to go out, I would spend a good portion of the time thinking about how I couldn’t wait to get home and continue my book or whatever else I thought was more fun. It was like I entered into the world of whatever book I was reading and everything around me faded to the background.
As I got older, I started to feel like maybe I was different and something was wrong with me for not necessarily finding interest in the same things that others found interesting. So, I tried to conform and act normal and do the normal things one was supposed to do. With time I started enjoying going out and trying my best to fit in. But at times it felt like an effort. As the years went by and I lived through different experiences of trying to conform, I came to the conclusion that to be anything less than our authentic selves is not only a disservice to the people around us, but most of all to ourselves. This got me thinking about the definition of normal? What is normal and who defines what normal should be? It appears society has defined a set of standards by which we must all abide and anyone who does not fit into this box is either considered weird, unsuccessful or nonconforming. Whilst my choice to not want to party is a mild example, there are far more heavier, consequential examples of situations people choose to be non-conforming to, which society rejects.
For example, society cannot understand when a woman or man chooses to remain single,or a married couple choose not to have children or a man chooses to stay home and care for his children while his wife works. Far too often in a bid to abide by societal expectations, people have found themselves in unpleasant and unwanted situations because they chose to give in to societal pressures. If a couple decide that their priority is to each other and have no desire for children, who are we to judge their decision whether we agree with it or not? In my own life, I can think of a few different, difficult situations I found myself in because I bowed to societal expectations. The journey to overcoming the sometimes negative effects of those decisions were far more trouble than it was worth in the first place, and this led to me deciding that no longer would I allow society’s expectations place a burden on me. However, this is not to say that we are not to live by any standards, but we all have different standards and we are the best judges of how those standards apply to us and impact us.
One of the biggest areas I see too many people conforming to (myself included) is the expectation of a white collar job. I know of too many people unhappy with their current jobs because they conformed to societal expectations of having a 9 to 5.p.m. job instead of pursuing their passions which may not necessarily be aligned to sitting at a desk. Whilst there is nothing wrong with having a typical office job (and I know people who love this as well), many of us bought into the white collar job dream and gave very little thought to pursuing true interests and passions that could really make a difference and effect change. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that many people do not know what they want to do by the time they’re ready to go to university, and by the time they through with university, they discover that their true interest has nothing to do with what they’ve just spent years investing in. This then begs the question, has the educational system failed us to a degree? But that is a topic for another day.
I have a friend who’s very passionate about the Montessori educational system as she believes it allows the child to naturally explore their creativity and figure out what they’re good at. There is something to be said of this system of education when we look at some of the famous celebrities in the world today who were Montessori educated – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google founders, Anne Frank and Beyonce, to name a few. Some of the elementary principles of Montessori such as self motivation, questioning how things are done and learning to fail early and often can essentially be classified as nonconformist, yet these very principles have helped shape the lives of these successful people whose creations we frequently benefit from today.
It seems that by forcing these rigid set of principles, we have managed to create a society of identical robots, like the movie I, Robot. We have not fully harnessed the full scope and potential of diversity and creativity by allowing nonconformity and the freedom to question things with the goal of creating new things and improving the old. What would happen if we allowed people to be their true selves? Would we truly be worse off or would be perhaps create a society where people are a bit happier and creativity flourishes to the betterment of all?