“Sometimes people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.” –Gaynor Parke
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of watching the live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ve always looked up to the main character, Belle, because of the values she represents. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a character description of the leading lady from this classic tale.
Belle is a headstrong and curious woman with a deep love for books and learning. Unfortunately, she lives in a village in rural 18th century France, where the locals view her intellectual streak as strange. Even though she’s the most beautiful (and respectful) girl in the village, she is vilified and ridiculed for her unconventional ways. Her progressive attitude is considered a threat to the local status quo.
Yet, through it all, Belle continues to indulge in her dreams and penchant for adventure. During one of her weak moments, she asks her father, “Papa, do you think I’m odd?” Her father, who is befuddled by her question, asks her what gives her that impression, to which Belle replies, “People talk.”
With love shining from his eyes, he replies, “My dear Belle, you’re so ahead of your time. This is a small village. And it’s small-minded, as well. But small also means safe.” Belle is fortunate to have a father who understands her and supports her, despite what the small-minded folk in their village say.
The ostracized hero is a classic archetype that’s present in a lot of fairytales and stories. Despite the pressures of society, this hero needs to find the strength within himself to carry out his mission. It’s only with time and perseverance that his personal essence will be appreciated by others. Until then, he has to walk the lonely path of the hero’s journey and stand strong in the face of opposition.
I can relate to this narrative because I’ve always been considered to be the strange one in my family and in certain social circles. People liked to inflate my weaknesses, specifically those qualities that made me look like a social pariah, while turning a blind eye to my progressive way of being.
The culture that I grew up in encourages individuals to play down their independent streaks and conform to the norms of society. People who subscribed to this way of thinking told me that I was too stubborn in my ways and unreasonable in the expectations and goals. I admit that resisting their opposition was tough and it caused me to doubt myself and my abilities on a frequent basis.
It takes courage to face your critics and still love yourself through the process. I was fortunate to have read great books and have inspiring role models that helped me develop a healthy self-concept and take pride in my unique identity. My exposure to the right influences taught me that my horizons aren’t defined by what others think of me but by the vision that I have for my life.
As someone who has experienced the grief and frustration that occurs when people don’t get you, I have a great deal of empathy towards those who look and feel different from others. That’s why a lot of my writing centers on self-acceptance and accepting others who are different from us. My experiences have taught me that a big part of feeling loved is being accepted for who you are. Warts and all.
Now there’s one caveat to bear in mind. Sometimes, people are genuinely concerned about you because you’re acting in a way that could cause harm to yourself or others. For instance, if you have an addiction or a destructive behavior pattern, you’ll need to accept that they have valid reasons for not approving of your ways. Instead of fighting the truth, use their support as an opportunity for creating positive change.
For the rest of us who have innocuous quirks and unconventional tastes that people don’t accept, we shouldn’t hold ourselves back from marching to the beat of our own drum. We shouldn’t feel obligated to get people to understand who we are and where we’re coming from. You’ll only drive yourself crazy!
There’s a reason why people are rigid in their views of others. You see, our brain likes to rely on short cuts without expending too much energy and processing capacity. That’s why we prefer to rely on assumptions, stereotypes and first impressions. In other words, when people look at you, they will see what they expect to see, in a way that is consistent with your past behavior and their expectations.
People are afraid of change, especially in more conservative and traditional settings. The fear of change and lack of open-mindedness influences a person to stick with what’s familiar. They perceive anything (or anyone) that deviates from the established norms to be unsafe and threatening. If we let them know what we’re up to, they’ll try to talk us out of it by pointing out all the obstacles we’re likely to encounter.
But we can’t allow other people’s fears and limited paradigms of existence to define us and the trajectory of our personal growth. Because, at the end of the day, success is about self-acceptance. There’s nothing more empowering than knowing who you are, loving the person you’re becoming and being uncompromising when it comes to accepting and sharing the unique gifts you’re born with.
This can be exhausting and lonely because it’s human nature to care about what others think of us and to crave a sense of belonging. We may feel isolated not knowing where and who to turn to. We might feel confused and overwhelmed about how to reach our end goal. But you need to stay strong and realize that you don’t need to fit into a mould, play a part, or take on a role to experience happiness.
For those of you dealing with the drama of people who don’t get you, take a deep breath and just know that you’re going to be okay. You can take matters into your hands by making these inner and outer shifts in your life:
- Love and accept yourself unconditionally: A healthy self-concept is the foundation of a confident individual because it protects you from people who attempt to put you down and criticize your actions. Your self-love will act as a shield against all the haters and critics trying to sabotage your efforts. Loving and accepting ourselves can be a challenge if we did not have good role models while growing up who raised us and made us feel worthy. If you believe that you have an inner dialogue that originates from a limiting belief system, I suggest working with your inner critic, and if you require more help, seek professional counseling. Utilize whatever supports you personally, such as a spiritual group or practice, or even going to the gym or doing yoga to stay in a grounded state of mind and body.
- Enhance your strengths and work on your weaknesses: Once we fully accept ourselves, we’ll find that we aren’t as eager to win others’ approval as we were before. We can stand in our truth and express our most authentic self, while also taking an honest and objective look at ourselves and working towards nurturing our best qualities in all aspects of our lives. You can package yourself in a way that doesn’t require you to change who you are on a fundamental level. This process requires you to gain deeper insight into your strengths, while also making an effort to work on your weaknesses. I have written extensively on how you can play to your strengths and downplay your weaknesses in this previous post. Remember that total self-acceptance doesn’t mean that you can turn a blind eye to your performance gaps and areas for improvement, but to take an honest look at them.
- Find your own tribe: Although not everyone is going to get you, there will be some who do. In fact you might be just the kind of person they’re looking for and would love to hang out with. So you don’t need to change your personality and values but you do need to be discerning about who you spend time with. In marketing, we call this fan base group your target audience. With these individuals, you don’t need to try so hard or feel compelled to gain their acceptance. Your interactions flow smoothly and you experience a natural understanding and rapport with them. You might need to think strategically about finding your tribe as it’s unlikely that you’ll bump into them by chance. List down your personal values and your interests and then attend events and join groups and organizations related to them. In this way, you increase the probability of meeting people who share a similar perspective on life as you do.
- Use your uniqueness for good: I believe that each one of us is born with a set of traits, qualities and talents that provide the conduit through which we can express our purpose. In other words, there’s a reason why you are the way you are, regardless of how odd, weird or disruptive you may seem to others. It’s up to you to find out why and how you can use those unique attributes as a force for good in the world. Just like how a Marvel superhero character is initially confused about their tremendous super powers in their youth but eventual learn how to channel it towards virtuous acts of good deeds. Your accomplishments and contributions will not only make the world a better place but they will also make a bold statement to your critics and naysayers about your self-assuredness and your values.
Remember that at the end of the day, it is your life. You have the right to live it in a way that feels natural and true for you. March to the beat of your own drum. Dance to the rhythm of your heart. Sing with the melody of your voice. Because there never was, and never will be, someone as special as you.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Are there some people who don’t get you in your life? How does it make you feel?