3 Strategies To Overcome The Challenges of Being Different

red leaf amongst a bunch of green leaves - being different

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone from being an accountant, passionate meat-eater and enthusiastic shopper, to a minimalist, vegan who blogs full-time at home. With my new found interests, society, more often than not, sees me as being different.

These changes, at times, have left me feeling isolated in social situations. Most of my friends and family 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, but it also often leads to tension in conversations.

At first, I would 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?
  • Hey, wait! What if you need that one day?
  • Wouldn’t that be boring?
  • Oh no, you can’t get rid of that!

Common responses to being vegan:

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

Common responses to pursuing a career in blogging:

  • How do you make money from a blog?
  • So what do you ACTUALLY do for work?
  • 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 get a regular job?

The frustrations of being different and feeling misunderstood

So with all of these typical responses, I 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, I’m learning this is merely 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 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.

friends sitting on mountain laughing

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 critical “life hacks” that everyone should know. Just like “you are what you eat”, or “you are who you hang out with”.

I’m going to break into a basketball analogy for a moment. Please stay with me here (even if you’re not interested in sports).

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).

Below is an example of a starting five and bench as it relates to people in your life.

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

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

Bench (people you spend less time with)

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

How to choose your team

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 join 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 interested in rock climbing, so this is what you typically talk about or do when you’re together.

Or perhaps you just 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 seemingly 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.

Your team will change as you 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, bringing 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 shared values and interests. Personality traits like trustworthiness, sense of humour, reliability, fun, emotional connection are all still crucial factors when choosing which relationships you want to develop.

Lastly, as much as you want to surround yourself with people who make you want to live a better life, there’s just as much value in connecting with people who are entirely different to you.

Interacting with people who are different from us, while challenging at times, is healthy to expand upon our perspective. We also have the best chance of learning something new from those who are different from us.

Get outside your bubble and think about diversity when building your team.

Strategy 2 – Don’t try to change people

Inspire them instead.

If you get stuck trying to convince people about your values, 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 shared interests and inspire them through your own personal development.

For example, instead of arguing about how eating animals is unethical and harmful to 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 much happier and clearer you are by owning less.

The moment you try to convince someone to be different is the moment they’ll build up resistance towards your values. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. If you can 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’s something wrong with you because you choose to question what’s normal. If anything, people will find you unique and exciting, so wear it loud and proud.

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

  1. Assess 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.

challenges of being different

Other articles you’ll love:

  1. How To Make Friends And Build Your Personal Dream Team
  2. 13 Practical Approaches To Being Content
  3. Dealing With Friends And Family When Transitioning To a Vegan Lifestyle
  4. How To Create An Effective Personal Integrity Report (Including Examples)
  5. Redefining The American Dream

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24 thoughts on “3 Strategies To Overcome The Challenges of Being Different”

  1. thank you so much for this post— it was refreshing and thought provoking! personally, I feel like I have always been labeled as controversial. I have always felt misunderstood in the masses but thankful for my close 5-10. being a Christian, woman, entrepreneur, creative, vegan, social justice advocate, feminist, sustainable living lifestyle and being extremely extroverted I have found my passions and qualities to be a unique mix. I see my life, beliefs and passions to be extremely fluid and holistic, yet it’s like I bring tension wherever I go, but I believe it is good tension. and that brings me back to how this article is thought provoking— and by that you are serving others with your writing. thank you! I only hope the tension we all bring by being different, is the good kind. may our lives be thought provoking to lead others to ponder, question and to possible better change for themselves and others!!

    1. Cosette, your passion and conviction in your values are inspiring. I can see how you may quite different to others—but you’re able to live with that tension to you talk about—which is very impressive!

  2. Hi Michael, Thanks for the wonderful sports analogy to relationships. I liked Anna choice to minimize negative impact. I believe it’s not a one size fits all lifestyle. Nearly half way through my sixth decade of life, I’ve pretty much avoided impulse purchases, lived below my means, and decided that the KonMari method of keeping only what sparked joy wasn’t my thing. (It left me weeping and frustrated with myself.) A huge bag of, “I don’t know if I should keep this yarn” yesterday became a beloved sweater for my daughter. I focus almost entirely on what is coming in (food, non-food items, relationships) rather than discarding to someone else’s ideals. I contemplate how many people are being ghosted and don’t even have a starting five because of the influence of internet and social media to include ditching friends and family when they emotionally need love the most. Some people are fine if they have a dependable partner, like in tennis, and a couple other folks to share joys and sorrows. Bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, etc., fill up the bench for many when we can’t field a team locally. Have a great week! Looking forward to your next article and Masa’s next recipe.

    1. Hi Rhea, I’m glad you enjoyed the analogy 🙂 You know, when I was updating this post, I thought about where we are in 2019. And what you said about the internet essentially reducing our ability to established local relationships is a real thing. What used to be a starting five is probably only two or three people, if you’re lucky. Like yourself, I’ve filled out most of my team with people from afar. Thank you as always for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us. Have a lovely week! Michael

  3. Thank you for this. I was literally feeling down tonight because these days I feel like I am living a life that is very different from most others instead of embracing the true me. I recently retired from a rewarding but also very toxic career and not sure yet what the next steps will be but want to get more into animal activism. I haven’t met my “tribe” yet and am tired of being quiet and passive around others that eat meat and are into the “more is more” lifestyle. I don’t want to be the preachy vegan and yet it’s hard to just be the “inspiration” when nothing seems to change. I always surround myself with all different types of people but maybe now in life it’s time to really surround myself with mostly vegans . I have also have pared down my personal belongings but still have a ways to go. I haven’t been able to let some “stuff” go just yet. Change is scary right now but I’m moving ahead even if it’s baby steps. I love the vegan life and wish I had woken up years ago.

    1. You’re welcome Amy 🙂 it sounds like you’re going through quite a bit of change at the moment, which is fantastic. But for sure, it can feel overwhelming and isolating at times. It’s hard when people closest to you, don’t understand or share the same worldview as you. The only way you can build a team in line with your values is to put yourself out there. I believe the best way to do that is in person. Maybe it’s worth setting yourself a goal to attend some vegan/minimalism/sustainable living events/meetups between now and the end of the year and see where that takes you? This is an exciting time!

  4. I only partly agree with this post. I indeed think it is important to live the life style that suits you and that you feel happy and comfortable with. For me that is a mostly vegan and minimalist lifestyle, in which i try to minimise my negative impact on the world around me. (However, I do have a 9-5 job that some might see as boring, but that pleases me. No aspirations to become a travelling blogger here :)) Many of my friends do not necessarily share the same lifestyle I have and are not planning to do so anywhere in the near future. what I think is essential however is that you can accept each other and that you remain open to each other s point of view. We’re not enlightened (I’m at least most certainly not ). Similarly, not every meat eater that has not marikondoed his or her place is a negative and judgemental person (from the comments to this post I sometimes feel that this is the general feeling). Bottom line of what I’m trying to say is that what counts is acceptance and openness towards each other… not thinking we have found the best life style available for ever and that inspiration can only come from our side. Diversity is much more exciting after all.

    1. Hi Anna, sorry I’m just catching up on comments that we’ve missed. You make some really valid points.
      I too have a day job where I work with a large team daily and see thousands of customers (it’s in retail). I generally love people and appreciate different perspectives, vegan, minimalist, entrepreneur or not. Everyone has something to add.
      When I wrote this post, I was alluding to your close circle of friends. The people you spend the most time with. Rightly or wrongly, some people give you energy while others drain your energy.
      Living with intentionality, at least for me, also means having the courage to be clear about what energy you want to surround yourself with, regardless of whether you have high ambitions, or are perfectly happy where you are.
      This train of thought does not necessarily mean you are not open or accepting of other points of view. We’re all influenced to some extent and I believe it’s important to recognise how you’re being influenced so you can actively live the life you want.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

    1. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

    1. 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.

  9. 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

    1. 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!

  10. 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 😉

  11. 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!

    1. 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.

  12. 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

    1. 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.

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