Tidbit # 5-The Perfect Fit

October 8, 2021

We all want to fit in — some of us more outwardly than others! The desire to be seen and heard is the desire to be accepted, to be affirmed in one’s expression of self and to feel connected with others. There are different patterns to how different people go about fitting in, and the degree to which our own quirkiness limits the number of folks whom we consider (or who consider us) kindred spirits, as it were, most definitely varies, as much by individual as by life phase. I’d venture to say, however, that the intellectually and/or artistically gifted may well experience a whole other dimension of wanting to fit in, and doing so can take a while to figure out. Doing so can also make some kids and adults sidestep themselves in favor of a version that fits more readily with their perception of others. 

I was never partial to doing much to fit in. And though I loved saying I didn’t care, I certainly did. And I longed to find ‘my people’ — my intellectual people, my artistic people, my kindred spirts. I became comfortable with my dual insider/outsider status. I traveled from group to group, never really belonging to one in particular, though I was welcome in many. I tired of the company of others; I quietly lamented the fact that no one else shared my sense of humor, and was never very interested in the things that interested other people. But when I did encounter people with similar musical proclivities, who loved to read, who delighted in solving math challenges, expressing themselves through dance, I often found myself fearing that the very people I’d hoped were like me were better than I was — smarter, faster, more proficient — and always discovered that we were actually nothing alike. More importantly, however, I doubted myself. Having not ever felt that I really fit in made me not only doubt that I ever would but also that I was as good as I thought I was. My father always reminded me that no matter how good I was, someone would always be better. Naturally, he meant to keep me humble—and it is, after all, true; there are a lot of pretty amazing folks out there. But the effect on me was that I always feared that my notions of being smart and talented were illusions, that I was neither exceptional nor special, and I didn’t fit in. 

The feelings of potential inadequacy for a child who has grown up feeling different and perhaps, sometimes, exceptional, can lead to an oddly intensified desire to conform and to stand out; to out-perform and to not be noticed and then judged as lesser — in short, to struggle with the big fish in a little pond/little fish in a big pond dilemma. The question of which one would like to be is, like so many questions, the wrong question. One cannot choose how to be received by others any more than one can orchestrate the time and place in which one’s star will shine. This hasn’t stopped too many people from trying, but then, that’s what society tells us to do: marketing! I’m not sure that really addresses the issue on a personal level, though. 

How to fit in? How to find your people? How is one to not be impatient with the many people around you who aren’t like you and don’t “get” you? Change the expectation and turn it towards yourself, I’d say. Having the wrong expectations is bound to end in disappointment. Enjoy all that makes you you. Delight in the random tastes, biographical details, talents, pet peeves you share with all variety of people; shared moments that cannot be planned — like a great time on the playground with someone whom you only saw once and never again or a hilarious exchange with someone in the check-out line at the grocery. Expect of friends and classmates that they will offer what they are able to offer, not what you want from them. Know that you rarely need to conform but always fit in if there’s mutual respect, that ‘your people’ are sprinkled all around you and pop up in different times and places in your life, that you’re someone else’s kindred spirit, and that you are always enough. 

Julianna Tauschinger-Dempsey, Gifted Mother of Three Wildly Gifted Children, Educator @ Scholars Academy for the Gifted & Artistically Elite & Empowerer of Gifted Youth & Their Parents

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