The Social Challenges of Being “Different” & 3 Strategies On How To Overcome Them

Social Challenges

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone from being an accountant, meat-eater and enthusiastic shopper, to a minimalist vegan who is working towards becoming an online entrepreneur.

These changes have left me feeling isolated in social situations. Most of my friends and family members have steady jobs that they don’t really like, love animal products and are victims of consumerism. This leaves us with little in common. Not only that, it also often leads to tension in conversations.

At first, I would just smile and nod. But after some time, you get sick of the same responses over and over again.

Common responses to being a minimalist:

  • Why are you getting rid of everything?
  • Don’t you think that is a little extreme?
  • What if you need that one day?
  • Wouldn’t that be boring?
  • Oh no, you can’t get rid of that!

Common responses for being vegan:

  • Do you get enough nutrients?
  • Your heritage matters, you know?
  • What do you eat anyway?
  • I could never give up meat, I love it too much!
  • OK I get it, but I still don’t understand why you don’t drink milk.
  • What if it’s organic meat? That’s OK right?
  • What I had my own chickens, surely eating their eggs would be totally fine?

Common responses for wanting to be an online entrepreneur:

  • How do you make money from a blog?
  • So what do you ACTUALLY do for work?
  • You should totally sell tea!
  • Why did you quit your last job? You were so good at it!
  • I value security too much to do that.
  • Why don’t you just get a normal job?

So with all of these common responses, you can’t help but get a little upset. Sometimes I feel like a young teenage boy yelling at my parents, “YOU JUST DON’T GET ME!!”

But instead of storming to my bedroom kicking and screaming, what I’m learning is that this is simply the way society is conditioned. And as soon as you try to do something “different” or question what is “normal”, people think you’re weird or an idealist.

You may not have the exact same values as me, but you may have similar feelings with some of the things you feel strongly about. So I’ve created three strategies to help combat the social challenges of being different.

Disclaimer: this first strategy may come across as cold, and systematic. It’s not my intention to put a number on people that you have relationships with but I’ve found this analogy the easiest way to bring clarity to the situation. Take it with a grain of salt.

Strategy 1 – Change your starting five

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn.

This is probably one of the most important lifehacks that everyone should know. Just like “you are what you eat”, “you are who you hang out with”.

I’m going to break off into a basketball analogy for a moment. Please stay with me here.

There are typically ten players on a basketball team. However, only five players can be on the court at any given time. So, depending on the lineup, you have a starting five (which are your best players) and your bench (your support players).

Starting five (the people you want to spend the most time with)

  1. Mary – 3 shared values
  2. John – 2 shared values
  3. Sarah – 2 shared values, 1 common interest
  4. Ben – 4 shared values
  5. James – 1 very strong shared value, 2 common interests

Bench (people you spend less time with)

  1. Debra – Family
  2. Tim – Family
  3. Mark – Childhood friend
  4. Paul – 2 common interests
  5. Melissa – Childhood friend

So when choosing the people you want to spend the most time with, think about recruiting your starting five first. Think about people you know (or would like to get to know) who share common values and have a positive impact on your life. You can do this by going to in-person events, using meetup.com to find people with common interests, or joining online communities, whether it’s Facebook groups or forums.

Next up, recruit your bench players. These could be old friends, family members or up-and-coming stars who could eventually make your starting five.

The handy thing about the bench is that they get limited court time and usually have specific skills. So this could be an old friend who still doesn’t understand why you don’t wear leather. As they’re on the bench, you don’t see them as much. But sometimes you can find common ground with other interests. Maybe you’re both really interested in rock climbing, so this is what you typically talk about or do when you’re together. Or maybe you catch up a few times a year to reminisce on the good old days.

Your starting five however are the people you look forward to spending more time with. You seem to connect on multiple levels and you walk away from interactions feeling energised and satisfied. This is your winning team so make sure you recruit wisely.

Obviously, your team will change as your grow and develop. But make it a habit of checking who your starting five is and make tweaks and changes as necessary. It sounds a little ruthless, but the reality is, every moment you spend with someone who is not adding value (or worse, brining you down) is an opportunity wasted with someone who brings out the best in you.

Also note, you shouldn’t choose your starting five purely based on common values and interests. Personally traits like trustworthiness, sense of humour, reliability, fun, emotional connection are all still crucial factors when choosing which relationships you want to develop.

Strategy 2 – Don’t try to change people

Inspire them instead.

If you get stuck trying to convince people about your ideals, stop yourself immediately. It’s easy for people who follow the status quo to take you down because of your differences. The key here is to stick to common interests and inspire them through your own personal development.

For example, instead of arguing about how eating animals is unethical and bad for the environment, invite your friends over for dinner, and serve up a delicious three course vegan meal.

Instead of convincing people that they don’t need to keep buying things for instant gratification, show them how peaceful you’ve become by owning less.

The moment you try to convince someone to be different, is the moment they will build up resistance towards your ideals. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. If can you positively spark their interest through your actions, then you’re doing a great thing!

Strategy 3 – Embrace being different

Don’t be different for the sake of being different. But if you feel strongly about your values, embrace it. Don’t hold back. This is who you are.

Don’t think that there is something wrong with you because you choose to question what is normal. If anything, people will find you unique and interesting, so wear it loud and proud.

So to quickly summarise how to overcome the social challenges of being different:

  1. Change your starting five
  2. Don’t try to change people (inspire them instead)
  3. Embrace being different

What about you?

Do you feel a little isolated because of the personal changes you’ve made (or are making)? How do you deal with it? Add your voice in the comments below.

16 comments… add one
  • Sisley 17/05/2015 Reply

    Wow, thank you so much for this post. I am really feeling distant from my current friends and, well, in almost all of my social situations. This was really helpful, and I am really glad I am not alone. Thanks for sharing Michael. Cheers, Sisley

    • You’re definitely not alone Sisley. Love what you’re doing over at your blog! I hear there are lots of vegans and bloggers in Vancouver so I’m sure you’re in the right place to start building up your support team. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  • Kathryn 17/05/2015 Reply

    I just moved and am breaking off a relationship due to lack of shared values and ideals. It’s not for the fainthearted, but I totally agree with #1. Being around someone a lot who does not share the same viewpoint is emotionally draining, especially if that person starts to make sarcastic comments, etc. While this lifestyle is not new to me, so it’s not like it was a surprise, he tolerated it for a while and then wanted me to change (but not change him! LOL). I tried the whole inspire thing, but he seems to think vegetables are instruments of evil.
    Thanks for this post, I have gotten a lot of value from you guys since I joined your email list. Posts like this give me the courage to continue to find like-minded people to share my life with. I got goose-bumps reading and rereading this post-it’s exactly what I needed!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Kathryn! Tough situation, but I can definitely understand your frustration. I think that it’s exciting that you have open spots on your team. Now you can you go out an be picky with which relationships you want to build whether it’s a spouse or valuable friendships.

  • Andrea 19/05/2015 Reply

    Michael, what a fantastic blog post!. I think a lot of vegans can relate… I know I can.

    It seems that unintentionally I have been employing these strategies, especially no. 1. Seeing it here, in writing definitely makes it even clearer that using and continuing these strategies are the best way for me to stay true to my values and live in peace with others who don’t share them (yet 😉
    Thanks!

    • Hey thanks Andrea! I’m glad the post has given you more clarity on what you’re already doing 🙂

  • Kate 19/05/2015 Reply

    Loving this! It’s strange, but in the last few weeks Josh and I keep coming across articles on the ‘assess your friendships’ line of thought, and it’s something we’ve ended up thinking and talking a lot about with each other. There are friendships that each of us have with various people that seem to have become outdated: friends who don’t share our values or interests anymore, don’t respect our lifestyle or simply don’t respect us! Your Starting Five concept really helps put it in perspective, and is a really healthy way to consciously decide what relationships are helping or hurting.
    One of the other articles we’ve been really appreciating is Wait But Why’s article on the 10 Types of Friendships and I definitely recommend checking it out! http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/12/10-types-odd-friendships-youre-probably-part.html

    • Hey, thanks for stopping by Kate. It sounds you guys are going through a similar cycle to us. I checked out the post and loved it! I also really like the blog – I don’t believe I haven’t come across it before, so thanks for sharing!

  • Svenja 21/05/2015 Reply

    Thank you for this post! Sometimes I still feel left out at dinner parties etc. because of being vegan. Then I often feel uncomfortable for being “picky” but then I remember, as you wrote, that it is my body and my health. It’s so weird that vegans often feel like they have to justify why they don’t eat animal products instead of meat eaters having to justify their choices killing innocent beings. Whenever I hear a meat eater trying to justify all they can think about are the excuses you listed in the post. Anyway, it’s always great to see people going through different situations as oneself even if it’s just online. So keep up the good work!

    • You’re welcome Svenja! We can definitely relate to your experiences – dinner out can definitely be a little tense as a vegan. Connecting with like-minded people online is a great start.

  • Cat 01/06/2015 Reply

    Yep. This is great, Michael. I especially love the idea of the “starting 5.” That’s a really helpful way to think about the people in my life. Everybody needs a great team!

  • Shanna 21/03/2016 Reply

    Wow you are so much like me it’s crazy lol. I’ve been vegan and minimalist now for over 3 years and I absolutely love everything about my lifestyle. But I always have that problem of not having much in common with people in my day to day life. Most people are in fact “normal”, negative, meat eaters. But after all this time I just don’t care. People are gonna do what they are gonna do and people are always gonna judge anyone who’s different. Especially people who are threatened by a healthy lifestyle. Like you said, just be proud to be you and there’s nothing to feel insecure about. A vegan minimalist lifestyle is healthy and positive and nothing to feel bad for. I was actually inspired to live a minimalist lifestyle after I went vegan and I discovered the blog HappyHerbivore. Her minimalist archives section is wonderful.

    • Hi Shanna! I’m so glad you connected with this post – it looks like we have a lot in common! You’re absolutely right, after a while you just stop caring. It’s always refreshing finding like-minded people though. I just dove into the HappyHerbivore archives and I love the Minimalist Monday series. Thanks for sharing!

  • Daisy 20/10/2016 Reply

    I shared this post with friends over dinner last night and it spawned a long meaningful discussion on how friends come and go (and sometimes come again!) depending on the seasons of life we’re in. Thanks for getting us into the topic in a deeper way!

    • So glad you guys got into some quality discussion about relationships. It’s definitely an interesting and at times a touchy subject.

Leave a Comment

Top