Upon arriving in the small, inner city school district, I knew I didn’t fit. The old saying, “No me hallo,” [S panish] or “I don’t find myself in these surroundings,” I’d learned from a childhood maid while growing up in the Republic of Panama (Canal Zone) was on target. But what to do? Six months later, it didn’t matter. I had migrated to a better place, committed to finding a place that appreciated me for who I was, realizing my present wasn’t preparing me for the future I wanted.

“When one discovers what is right and begins to pursue it, the necessary people and resources turn up.” Source: Gandhi

I’d experienced the feeling before, a form of culture shock when I arrived from Panama in a beautiful neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas where I was afraid of being kidnapped, murdered, chased by gang of wannabe thugs too rich to venture away from their Atari consoles but once a day. In time, I came to make my home in San Antonio, but there is always a sense of strangeness.

That sense of strangeness presses at you, stealing your breath, freezing your thoughts, and you realize, either you better make friends quick, islands of comfort in a place where you’ve been isolated, or leave. Worse, that sense of strangeness can permeate your interactions with others.

Once you have a critical mass of good people — if you bring someone who isn’t a fit, they self select to leave. We had to watch really carefully to see if people were a fit or not and then help them leave if they weren’t the right person. Source: Diane Greene as cited in this interview, Scaling VMware with Diane Greene

How do you survive in places where you don’t fit?

  1. Focus on the work. While insufficient for more than a short time, focusing on the work enables you to do what you were hired to do, and increases the opportunity to build relationships with others.
  2. Inventory your biases and expectations, then make sure you don’t take on work somewhere you don’t want to be. You know almost instantaneously whether you’re going to fit in or not. If you know what your expectations are, what your needs are, then you’ll be less likely to fall for that voice inside you that says, “Go ahead…stay, it will be OK. You’re not being fair.” By knowing who you are, where you stand, you can take control of your expectations and endure.
  3. Listen to yourself. If there’s a voice telling you to ignore that nagging sense of strangeness, listen to the part of yourself that senses things are quite what they need to be for you to be at your optimum.
  4. Avoid temptation. When we start a new job, it’s easy to fall for the temptation…the money will change everything, you say, for the better. Unfortunately, money can drown out the warning your senses are whispering.
  5. Pray, reflect, ask for guidance. If you find yourself wondering, “Did I make the right choice?” or trying to decide if you should take the plunge, make the time to reflect. Avoid the frenzied lists of pros and cons. This is not a matter of the intellect alone, but of the heart and soul. Less talk, more listening, allowing yourself to dwell within the moments.
Finally, when the time comes to leave because you don’t fit in, embrace the separation. It may be a little frightening but…you avoid what Robert Quinn calls “slow death” in his book Deep Change:

When dealing with slow death, deep change requires us to go “naked into the land of uncertainty, knowing how to get lost with confidence.” This journey into uncertainty results in the creation of a new paradigm, “one in which we must separate from the status quo and courageously face and tackle uncertainty.”

When you don’t fit in the pants you’ve put on, it’s time to “go naked,” to go into the land of uncertainty…get lost with confidence. When we do this, we take control back from that which urges to practice “safety,” that says, “Fit in no matter what, no matter what the cost, the emotional toll.”

Note: This is NOT an exhortation to embrace a nudist colony life. 😉

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure