Being different can suck, but it can also be a creative superpower.
I remember feeling out of place as a kid and never really feeling like I belonged. In school, I stood out for reasons I didn’t want to and got made fun of. I think every person probably has memories like that. Being different made me want to fold in upon myself and hide. As an adult, my “otherness” didn’t really go away. I developed even more insecurities and felt isolated, but something shifted when I began to channel this feeling into my creative work.
Do any of these sound situations sound familiar to you?
- It’s hard for you to make friends.
- You feel like you don’t fit in.
- Nobody really gets or understands you.
- You feel like you have to pretend to be someone else.
- You don’t feel like you look like everyone around you.
- You feel uncomfortable when the spotlight is on you.
- You can’t be yourself or you’re always hiding parts of your identity.
- You can’t experience the world the same way most people can.
If you can answer yes to any of those questions, you might be feeling the discomfort of “otherness” too.
All of these scenarios are uncomfortable. They suck. You feel different and think it would just be easier to be like everyone else. You have no idea how many times I have wished (and still wish) I could trade parts of myself with other people. I wish I could feel comfortable more often. In my skin, in my life, and in social settings. A girl can dream, but some dreams are actually better left unfulfilled, because:
The right amount of discomfort drives us forward.
If I would have fit into social groups more easily in school, didn’t have depression or anxiety about never-ending adult acne, and had constant nervous-sweat in public–I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I probably wouldn’t be an artist. Why?
Comfort dissolves creativity. Whereas discomfort drives you to act in order to remedy the situation. Discomfort forces you to explore the thing that makes you uncomfortable to figure out how, why, and what will make the feeling end. That feeling drives me to write posts for this blog, to create art, to write poetry and prose, to style my body in different ways, and to seek out people with similar experiences. My entire creative portfolio is driven by discomfort.
Otherness is an asset because it creates discomfort.
And the right amount of discomfort can be the perfect fuel for creativity. Also, being “other” benefits you in more ways. For example, discomfort can give you a heightened sense of empathy and more compassion for others. It can make you more socially considerate, and so on. It is my opinion that being different/”other” and having the courage to explore and embrace those differences can make you a better human–but that’s a topic to expand on another day.
Back to the original point of the post. If you feel like you don’t belong, you can turn that discomfort into creative energy. Here’s how you can explore your “otherness” and use it as creative fuel in your work:
How to harness your “otherness” for maximum creativity:
1. Figure out what makes you different.
You are not like everyone else. You are beautifully different and this is a gift. Explore all that doesn’t fit in. I can make the argument that everyone is different, but there are varying degrees of “different” and some of us can be on the extreme ends of the spectrum in any given group. Even if you feel pretty normal, I bet you have a little “otherness” in you that you can harness. If you are comfortable and feel like you fit into your current world, I challenge you to put yourself in a different situation or social group. Leave your comfort zone.
What makes you different in one group can make you fit in seamlessly into another, but first, you must explore those differences. The more you can understand yourself and how you fit into the world, the easier it will be to push this energy into your creative work.
Explore your experiences, heritage, family, friends, physical attributes, skill sets and lack of skills, your upbringing, job history, and geography. I want you to look at everything about your life and take note of the moments when you felt the contrast between you and the groups surrounding you. This isn’t a time to judge yourself or those around you, only to observe and take notes.
I know when your differences feel painful, the instinct is to push them away or try to correct them. If you feel even more discomfort when you try to examine your differences, please consider working through this exercise with a counselor. I do not wish to inadvertently make you feel worse and I take mental health seriously. Know your limits and find a safe place to explore.
2. Tell your story.
In the writing world, you’ll hear the advice “write what you know.” In other words, pull inspiration from your own experiences and emotions. These will be the best source of powerful detail and meaning.
To harness your “otherness” you need to create from an authentic place. When you are taking note of how you stand apart from others, this contrast can be painfully unpleasant. Especially when dealing with gender, race, disabilities, addiction, abuse, and sexuality, but these differences and your experiences are so valuable and can bring people together when and if you are ready to share them. Your story is valuable.
Telling your story often won’t be easy, but it can do so much good. If you share your story, you can stand as a beacon of belonging for those who share the same qualities and you can educate those who do not understand the struggles of different groups.
You don’t have to be a writer to tell your story. You can create in any medium that speaks to you. And I should say that your story doesn’t have to be a literal telling. It can be an allegory or just an abstract expression of your emotions. For topics that are especially painful, an abstract exploration can be a perfect starting point.
3. Embrace your obsessions and passions.
Sometimes “otherness” isn’t painful. Sometimes it’s just caring intensely about a subject that nobody else around you admits to sharing. Although weird and isolating at times, these obsessions can lead to incredible creative progress.
As a child, I was obsessed with my pet parakeets and cockatiels. I drew them, raised them, watched their eggs hatch, and I would bike to the library in town and check out books all about them. Nobody else around me shared my obsession. There wasn’t a bird club in school that I could have joined. It was my own personal passion, and I was happy to keep it that way. I didn’t do anything overtly fantastic with my bird obsession. It was a phase that passed as I got older, but it did form the foundation of my observational drawing skills. My obsession taught me to observe and channel the energy into my creativity.
The Power of Obsession
As an adult, I still obsess over random things. Lately, it has been the human microbiome and a whole food plant-based vegan diet. This obsession has led me to creatively shift my menu planning and cooking style to accommodate my change in diet. My meals may not exactly be works of art, but there’s a lot of creative energy involved in conceptualizing new recipes.
When you find yourself developing a passion for random subjects and activities, don’t let the lack of understanding from outsiders deter you from pursuing it. It’s okay if outsiders don’t get why you care. It’s okay if nobody shares your passion. Jump in and explore. See where your obsession takes you creatively.
4. Find your community.
When you feel isolated with your “otherness”, this can sap your energy. Both creative energy and emotional energy. When you feel “other”, it’s important you don’t get trapped in isolation. I know, I know. The feeling of “otherness” comes from not fitting into your current community, so this advice is a little annoying, but looking in new places can help you. You need to expand your social bubble and search for a community. I promise you can find others like you.
The internet is a glorious place to find people who feel and experience the world in a similar way. I’ve been on a constant hunt for people who make me feel like I belong and I’ve found them in random places. I’ve met best friends through new jobs. I joined Bumble BFF for a little while. A new friend found me through Instagram (multiple new friends, actually). Through sharing my story, embracing my “otherness”, looking in new places, and being vulnerable I have found a community that I wish I had when I was younger.
Your community is out there. Embrace the people who accept and encourage the parts of you that don’t fit in, and don’t forget to be that person for those around you.
Yeah, it sucks being uncomfortably different, but sharing your perspective can enrich the lives of others while also making fellow outsiders like you feel less alone. For example, every time I am doing an event, I can’t help but loudly proclaim “I’m an introvert! I don’t know how I got here!” The introverts in the back think hey, if she can do it, maybe I can too. And the social butterflies can learn a bit about how social interactions don’t come easily to everyone.
I’ve experienced “otherness” in a variety of ways throughout my life. Some are inherently painful like depression, anxiety, acne and eczema accompanied by obsessive skin picking, and experiences with past trauma. Some are just quirky like unconventional interests, awkward social behavior, and getting easily and visibly embarrassed in big groups. Whatever my “otherness” may be–I’m here, I’m creating, I’m sharing my story, and I’m letting my weirdo light shine bright. For you and for me.
So roll around in the discomfort you are feeling from being “other”. Then capture it and share it. Write, draw, paint, act, dance, sing, play an instrument, or use whatever medium you prefer. Show us who you are and don’t be afraid of your otherness. It is a gift and you can change the world by being brave enough to share it.
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