I grew up in the generation of snowflakes. Each of us told we were unique. Special.
Except, I don’t recall that being the case for me. In fact, I recall more of a lean towards conformity. A constant, low grade anxiety pulsing through the air, amplifying each time I neared the invisible lines I was forbidden from coloring outside of. Electrified by any shift away from staid norms. Dare I might misbehave or break the mold. For me, unique was never special. Unique felt almost dangerous.
I remember preparing for my coveted summer associate role between my second and third year of law school. I was warned not to be too…well…me…
As others seemed to breezily balance having fun and progressing their careers, all I heard in my head were worries about all the things about me that made me less than. Outcast. Not belonging in that space. As if the suits my mom picked out for me couldn’t hide the misfit beneath them.
It took me a while to loosen my grip on that baggage. I’d like to say I’ve left it behind. But that wouldn’t be entirely true. For, every day provides endless opportunities to trigger that place inside that still questions. My belonging. My worth. My value. My enoughness.
It is true. I am different. In so many ways. In almost every situation I find myself in. Imagine one of those still life paintings. A big bowl of ripe, red, gleaming apples. I am the orange. The one that doesn’t belong. And not in a discreet, fade into the background kind of way. An orange in a bowl of apples kind of way.
This otherness creates an elemental fear each time I am reminded of my nature. Of the difference. Of how I stand out. My inner critic comes out, cruelly questioning how I’ve gotten to where I am, convinced I’m doomed to be found out. To fail. Certainly, an orange can’t cut it in a bowl full of apples.
But, I’ve done a great deal of work to understand that fear and rise above it. I didn’t just now arrive in this place. This path is well-trodden. And, on it, I’ve learned to trust myself. I can be me and that’s okay. I don’t have to be an apple. I prefer citrus anyway.
It doesn’t make it any less scary, though. Hanging all the way out on the limb by yourself. Wondering – are you perfectly poised to grow ripe in the sun? Or are you singularly on the verge of an unexpected fall? Over time, though, it has become easier to ground myself in the awareness of the fact that I’ve been here before. And the view is tremendous. Out here all alone, there is no one to stand in my way.
I’ve also learned that sometimes, being the orange means I bring a different perspective. And that perspective is valuable. Special, even.
When you have a bowl of apples, what’s another apple? But an orange can zest things up.