Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. - Amy Poehler
We all want to belong. Even the most wildly individualistic among us want to connect in a deep and meaningful way with others. Preferably with those who are like minded -- meaning they will support you, cheer you on, without first criticizing.
In our quest for authenticity and genuine individuality, there is always a dash of conformity. We all group up and seek to belong. The trick is to never compromise your internal uniqueness for an external acceptance. A worthwhile clan will not always reflect back your differences, but they will take them in without judgement.
Here’s another thing about finding your people. They might not look like some ideal utopian gaggle of coolness. They might be the local Mom’s or bird watcher’s club. We often put individuality on a pedestal and it stands there wearing tattoo sleeves or kick ass vintage wear, but the thing about idealized individuality (think Hot Topic), is it often becomes its own cult of conformity.
If you’re drawn to it, deeply and genuinely, then that is totally cool. But it is just as perfect to be drawn into something that feels branded as more common. Being authentic within a group is a very complex endeavor.
Think of all the amazingly different people you know who follow this boilerplate: get married, have children, work a job, pursue a hobby, retire and travel. This formula may serve you, or not, but it’s important not to scoff at tradition just because we think radical distinction makes us “better” than others.
Deviance of individuality coexists within the patterns of societal and social conformity. This is likely because it behooves us from an evolutionary standpoint to be accepted by a group. It meets our basic needs, keeps us safe, and, to be fair, this allows us to thrive. Belonging is also hardwired into our brains.
Author and friend of Mark Twain, Charles Dudley Warner, wisely noted that, “We are half ruined by conformity, but we should be wholly ruined without it.” This is why, even when we embrace our differences, we still find, and collect with, those who appreciate and mimic those differences. We always find our tribe.
What matters in the larger story, as individuals and as people with a place in society, is that we tread any path, and choose our people, with intention. The number of people in your close-knit group, their appearance, reputation, and their accolades as a collective are entirely irrelevant. All that matters is how you feel when you are with them. If it’s a fit, you will find those around you bring joy as they challenge, uplift and affirm.
As we strive to embrace our uniqueness, our gifts, limits, and quirks, we must listen for our authentic voices among the static of the well meaning culture that surrounds us. We must ask: “Who am I, really, and who are my people?”
As long as you intentionally chose them, then they are the perfect support system for your individuality; no matter where you all collectively lie on the sliding scale of branded individualism.