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.
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)
- Mary – three shared values
- John – two shared values
- Sarah – two shared values, one common interest
- Ben – four shared values
- James – one strong shared value, two common interests
Bench (people you spend less time with)
- Debra – Family
- Tim – Family
- Mark – a Childhood friend
- Paul – two common interests
- 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:
- Assess your starting five
- Don’t try to change people (inspire them instead)
- 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.