I had kind of a disturbing realization this past week — and it really shook me up.
Be patient with me though. It might seem kind of superficial at first glance, but it’s not:
I am not an outsider. And neither are you.
Whoah. Crazy. This makes no sense.
Nope. Not an outsider. Not a freakish, weird, unconventional eccentric different-from-all-of-you outsider. Not even slightly.
Which is seriously messing with my head because — for as long as I can remember — outsider-ness has just been a natural part of my identity. It’s not just part of the story. It’s the whole damn narrative.
I guess the other way of phrasing this is that we are all equally outsiders and that none of us gets to claim the narrative as original, but I’m not ready for philosophizing.
I need to process some of this. Out loud. Well, you know, here.
A whole history on the outside.
I can’t even figure out where to begin with this. Name any point in my life and I’m on the outside of things.
It took me years to lose my accent in Hebrew and even then … one tiny slip-up, one not-remembering an old commercial and that’s it, all of a sudden you’re a foreigner again.
Ugh. I don’t even want to talk about what it was like for me living in Germany.
And when I came back to the States after eleven years of not having spoken English, people would talk loudly at me and explain what words meant.
But even now that people have stopped saying “Wow, your English is really good!” and I can finally “pass” as an American, I don’t fit in.
I grew up without television. Still don’t have one. Most cultural references go over my head. Because I went to university in Tel Aviv, I don’t have shared collective memories about college or anything.
Never celebrated Thanksgiving until two years ago. Never had a chance to vote in an election here until this year. Most of the time, I have no idea what people are talking about.
Making peace with not belonging.
My way of coping with the “always on the outside” thing was to incorporate that into my identity.
After the first twenty years of being hurt, resentful, jealous and confused, I figured out that I was always going to be different and baby, that’s the way it is.
I made my difficult peace with the fact that I was probably always going to be wearing the wrong thing and saying the wrong thing.
And I figured out that I will always identify more with the margins than the center. That there is always a slice of subculture where I can find my people.
I made outsider-ness work for me. Which was awesome.
Until I realized that the whole thing was a sham.
There was this hilariously true article in The Onion called Everyone In Family Claims To Be The Black Sheep.
It got me thinking.
My father likes to call himself the white sheep in his family because the rest of them are all eccentric nutjobs. Which they are. But the truth is that he is also an eccentric nutjob.
In fact, more eccentric than the rest of them and at least as much nutjob.
My brother and I also have equal claim in our family to the dubious role of the odd man out. Or sheep. Whatever.
In fact, pretty much everyone I know self-defines as “other”, “different”, “weird” or “crazy”.
Even the people who seem to me to epitomize normal and well-adjusted are totally caught up in their own personal dramas about how they’ve always been different.
The penny finally dropped a while back and I realized that yeah, my outsiderness was just as boring and unimpressive as everyone else’s.
And now it’s showing up in my business.
So I thought I’d come to terms with the whole “we all think we’re different, yadda yadda yadda” understanding.
But the truth is that I hadn’t really internalized it. Or I don’t know if that’s right.
It’s more that I didn’t realize how much I need to do to help people feel welcome here.
That it’s not enough for me to have processed my understanding if everyone around me is functioning according to (and making choices based on) the myth of outsiderness.
Outsiders at the Kitchen Table.
So I started this program (due to huge response now closed to new membership until March, sorry sorry sorry) called At The Kitchen Table With Havi & Selma.
The idea was that I wanted a space to actively teach the techniques and concepts that I use with my private coaching clients, but you know, without people having to pay over $800 a month to do it.
And for that space to be a sanctuary for them to show up with their stucknesses and feel safe, supported and loved while working on their stuff.
And for it to be a sanctuary for me to hang out with some of my Right People and do the work I feel moved to do in this world.*
*Or rephrase that into whatever non-cheesy version works for you.
So the past few weeks have been amazing and intense. Watching people are making huge shifts and big life changes at the Kitchen Table. So … yay. Just yay.
But there’s also a huge problem. Well, a challenge.
Too many self-proclaimed outsiders spoil the pot.
Gah. That metaphor did not work at all!
Nothing is being spoiled. It’s just that I forgot about the outsider thing. And it’s bringing up all sorts of challenges.
People have been writing to me and Marissa saying that they feel like they don’t belong.
To the point that, oh, I think out of eighty people there are maybe five who haven’t written to us about how they are feeling uncomfortable because they know they don’t fit in.
And those five are probably saying it in one of the forum-ey places.
At this point, I could hand out fill-in-the-blank forms to people as they come in. Or give them boxes to check off.
I feel awkward and uncomfortable. I know I’m a complete outsider and I don’t belong here because ___________.
Because everyone else is kind and generous and I’m not.
Because everyone else is actually talented and I’m not.
Because they have businesses and I don’t.
Because the girls are all girly and I’m not.
Because they’re all big hippies and I’m not.
Because they all know each other and I don’t know anyone.
Because I’m shy and reclusive and they’re not.
Because I suck and they don’t.
Basically it got to the point where everyone was secretly suspecting everyone else of being a suspiciously sincere, kind, compassionate tree-hugger.
And I was too busy feeling like an outsider to notice.
There were people wanting to leave because they felt like they didn’t belong. A couple people left.
And I let them. You know how it is. I mean, I don’t care about the money. I want people to be there because they want to be there.
My mistake was that I didn’t realize that this was a pattern being played out.
Just figured, “Okay, if it’s not your place, it’s not your place — if you’re not in love with it, it’s probably not for you. Good luck finding your place.”
I didn’t have any desire to talk anyone into staying.
But I’m now realizing I could have done a lot more to sit with people in their lonely other-ness and help them figure out what was going on.
Because every single person there has considered leaving for the exact same reason. And by making the choice to stay, they resolve that particular piece of stuck.
Or at least they give it some attention so it can start shifting.
People have been making unlikely connections. Useful allies. Finding supporters and cheerleaders and friends. They’re noticing stuff about their patterns that you usually need a decade of therapy for.
They’re having breakthroughs and epiphanies. It’s beautiful.
And I’m still in my outsider story.
When I’m in Mark’s forum I think about how I’m the least warm, fuzzy, earth mother person by a LOT. It also seems (to me) like I’m the only one there who really wants to biggify something.
And then I feel completely embarrassed by how much I want to get down to business when everyone else seems to want to group hug all day.
Then when I’m in Michael’s forum I’m the biggest hippie by a LOT. Everyone talks about “target markets” and “metrics” and “strategic ventures” and no one seems to care about the mental and emotional components to business stucknesses. Poor lonely me. Again.
The narrative: not going anywhere. But the plot? Anywhere I want it to.
Last night at Roller Derby I felt like an outsider. This morning at the co-op I felt like an outsider. It’s not like it’s going to stop.
But at least I can remind myself that this is part of my “black sheep” story. It’s a narrative about what it means to be me.
My story. But also universal. To the point of absurdity.
So while I’m feeling kind of sad to realize that I’m not quite as unique and special as I’d thought, I’m also kind of relieved to realize that you’re all in it with me.
That we all have interesting stories but that we also all have, to some extent, the same story.
All outsiders. Together
I don’t know where I’m going with this either. Will do some more thinking on it. And noticing. And reminding. And talking things out with the wonderful people who are Kitchening it up with me at the Table.
Because, as far as I can tell, they’re going through the same thing I am.
And chances are, so are you.
Wow. Lots of thoughts. I have gone back and forth all my life between feeling like an outsider and finding my people. Now at 51 I am closer to feeling comfortable in both situations. I’ll have to think about this some more…Thank you, Havi.
Thank you for writing that. I needed to read today. I felt like an outsider when I moved from my seaside town in the south to a grim industrial town in the north 25 years ago. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told ‘you’re not from round here are you?’, or ‘you don’t belong here’. Criticised for being middle class and southern.. Weirdly enough, I moved back to this grim town after years of living in London and Brighton. And STILL don’t feel like I belong here!! (And I was born here). What’s that all about? Maybe a deep rooted feeling of not belonging anywhere anyway means you’ll never feel settled where ever you live.
‘hurt, resentful, jealous and confused?’ I’ve felt like that my whole life. At the age of 43, I’ve just started therapy and it’s raised a LOT of strange, painful feelings. Moving through a very painful process may just help to connect with people instead of running away and hiding (which is what I normally do).
glad i stumbled across this, excellent article. such a simple concept that had somehow slipped my grasp up to this point. there was me thinking that i was always the outsider, despite having plenty of friends and consistently making them easily, when in reality those around me no doubt tend to feel the same. i had recently realised that i do always have a desire to be the outsider, on a sub-conscious level. like i bemoan having different interests to those around me, then when i find people who have the same interests i don’t want to be involved. funny being a human isnt it.