I was the only kid in my third grade class who wasn't white. I was also the quintessential immigrant kid — outfitted with ill-fitting, discount clothes and an embarrassing hairstyle.
I didn't want people from school to come over to my house. I worried that they'd judge the curry smell and my sari-wearing grandmother who didn't speak English.
I always felt lonely, as though I were standing outside a glass wall, looking in at the "real" world. Unfortunately, I've continued to have similar experiences all throughout my life.
For example, when I was 12 years old, my parents took me to India. I was ecstatic and hopeful that I'd be able to bond with other children like me.
To my surprise, I was treated as an outsider there, too — even more so. I heard kids commenting on my awkward braces and relatives whispering about my western politeness, which they interpreted as inauthentic.
I was devastated that I fit in nowhere.
This has been a recurring theme in my life — sometimes out of choice, sometimes not. Even within the medical community, I've sometimes felt like a misfit. My point of view on health and wellness that is different from others and a bit controversial: I believe we need to empower people with the tools to take their health into their own hands rather than encouraging them to rely so heavily on doctors.
This might seem like a no-brainer but doctors fear that patients will harm themselves by heeding advice from the internet, or with alternative medicine. It's because we see the few horrible outcomes when people go too long trying things on their own without consulting an expert (for example, we see the patient with an infection or injury that's only gotten more severe with home remedies).
I think most people know their boundaries and will ask for help when needed.
So, even as an adult, I have felt like a misfit.
What I've come to realize is that many of us were (and are) misfits. Sometimes your looks, your ethnicity, your beliefs, your body, your occupation, or your sexual preference sets you apart.
But we misfits have a lot in common, and I have listed a few commonalities below. I am no expert in psychology, I'm just sharing my own conclusions, which may or may not apply to all.
1. Not fitting in forces you to figure out who you are.
When you don't feel like you fit in anywhere, you're often uncomfortable. When you get uncomfortable, you grow. In a group we can blend in, but on our own, we have nowhere to hide. So we take risks, fail and repeat, and get a solid sense of who we are.
2. Sometimes breaking away from the status quo is freeing.
There are times when we strive to become a misfit because the freedom that comes with doing your own thing is exhilarating. Every time in my life when I have voluntarily followed my own path, it came with a sense of empowerment.
3. There is no one role model, so you learn from everyone.
I've realized that sometimes you have to stop waiting for a mentor to guide you through life because no one is exactly like you. This is especially true for misfits because quite possibly no one around you has been in your situation. I don't think I've ever found a role model or mentor who has the same life experiences, preferences, and values as I do. In fact, I have learned that some of the most amazing people I know have a complex mix of mentors.
4. You develop empathy.
I felt that I have always had a soft spot for misfits. At work, I have a special empathy for my patients who are immigrants, disabled, or societal outcasts. I think part of it comes from the fact that I've always felt like an outsider.
5. You build more grit.
Ridicule is often part of being a misfit. I'll be the first to tell you that it hurts to be an outsider, especially if you're picked on. All I can say is that I am pretty sure it's one of the only ways that one builds grit, the X factor in life. Inspired by this TED talk, grit is something I'm always trying to instill in my own children.
I never would have chosen to be a misfit, but I'm grateful that I am one. And, if you really think about it, Lily Tomlin was right: "In private we are all misfits."
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