Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Melissa LaFavers

Being a Misfit

Remember the song from the holiday television classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

 "Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don't I fit in?"

I can relate because the many ways I am different are almost as obvious as Rudolph's brightly glowing red nose. I'm one of those misfits, which sometimes feels pretty lonely, like a couple weeks ago when I became embroiled in a discussion about dieting on a scrapbooking website message board. Since I don't subscribe to the commonly accepted idea that thinner is always healthier and better and more attractive, my opinion was not popular.

Or the time I had to bite my tongue when one of my paper-crafting buddies ranted for a good half hour on how awful it was that the words "In God We Trust" appeared on the side of a coin instead of on its face. I didn't tell her that, really, those words are religious and shouldn't appear at all on the money of a nation who's Constitution affords freedom of religion; nor did I ask her how she'd feel if the coin were to be stamped with "In Allah We Trust" instead.

In almost every realm of society, I tend to be outside of the box. Not Christian, not totally atheist, not quite full-fledged Neo-Pagan. I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, not a Conservative nor a Liberal, and I don't totally subscribe to the  Libertarian party's agenda either. I tend to be skeptical, and I think for myself, both of which make me different from most of the people I encounter on a daily basis.

Sometimes, it gets a little tiring always swimming upstream, always being the one that doesn't conform, doesn't tow the company line, doesn't actively pursue the path of least resistance, doesn't fit in any box.

My first significant experience being an outsider began when my parents sent me to a Christian school in Tyler, Texas, for four and a half long years. I was the new kid, and I was the only one whose family wasn't wealthy. The other fathers were doctors, dentists, lawyers, radio station owners and businessmen, while mine was a machinist. I was "poor," only able to attend private school because of charity, and the rich schoolmates never let me forget it.

Rejected by them because of things I couldn't possibly control, I soon decided that I didn't even want to be accepted by people who had such shallow values, who justified being cruel to me because of my family's financial circumstances. I learned to stand alone, and that lesson, while painful, laid important groundwork for my development as a strong woman who is willing to endure the discomfort of being an outcast in order to live an authentic life of her own design, irrespective of what other people think.

Humans seem to be hardwired with a desire to belong, perhaps because at one time in our evolutionary history being part of a group helped to secure survival. It certainly is easier to be part of the crowd, even if survival no longer depends upon it. Many times when I've been faced with the exhausting frustration of trying to explain my point of view to yet another persistent fundamentalist Christian or a weight loss fanatic, I've thought, "Wouldn't it be easier to at least pretend to agree?"

Easier maybe, but throughout history, we see those people who choose not to take the easy path making the biggest differences. Think of the people who really accomplish great things. They are not the kind of folks who readily fit in. They are the misfits.

The story of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, teaches a valuable lesson, as most good stories do. As rejected and ridiculed as Rudolph was--even Santa disparaged the glowing red nose--he was the one who eventually saved the day. Because of the very thing that made him an outcast in the first place, Rudolph was the only one who could do what had to be done.

And that story is just one example. Many stories, fictional and real, illustrate that being a misfit has definite advantages.

Melissa LaFavers is a writer, amateur photographer, and student of creativity who is currently telling her life story through the art of scrapbooking and contemplating which writing project to tackle next. Visit her blog, The Art of Practice, at www.arrenkyle.com/blog.


Jim Aikin said...

My suspicion (and I haven't researched the question) is that being a misfit is orthogonal to greatness. That is, there's no correlation either way.

I have a nodding acquaintance with the biographies of a number of famous composers, and my impression is that some (such as Beethoven) were certainly misfits, while others (Bach comes to mind) were staunch church-goers and dedicated family men.

And of course the Unibomber was a misfit.

The best that can be said, I think, is that if you're doing important work, peer approval is not only irrelevant to your work but somewhat unlikely, because those around you probably won't understand what you're up to.


MJ said...

Awesome! ME TOO! See, you aren't alone when life kicks you in the knees. I was a chubby kid with braces, a merely middle class family, and a mouthy mom when my parents sent me to a fancy Catholic school. I was, and remain today, my own person - man oh man did I pay for it then, but being one of them never made any sense. Who'd want to be one of them? YUCK! The school was good in a few ways - I got to see that a religious institution could be corrupt, and that money bought results - better to be aware of that in life earlier than later. Now I'm the only woman in my work group, the only non-Catholic in the group (guys, please don't ask me about how I always found the Greek Pantheon, while far-fetched, more reasonable than Xianity), and "different" in a whole lot of ways. Thank Ceiling Cat that I am - I'm not boring, and my thoughts are my own. So few can say this...