Young People Ask
Where Do I Fit In?
“I’m 21. There aren’t many people my age around here, so I have to hang out with either high schoolers or married couples. The first group stresses over exams, and the second group worries about mortgages. Neither of those issues keeps me up at night. It would be so nice to find some people I can fit in with!”—Carmen.*
NEARLY everyone, regardless of age, wants to be accepted by others. No doubt you do too. That’s why it hurts so much to be left out and ignored, as if you were invisible—“just someone in the background,” as 15-year-old Michaela describes herself.
Of course, if you’re a Christian, you have a “whole association of brothers” to fit in with. (1 Peter 2:17) Even then, at times you may feel out of place. “On the way home from Christian meetings, I’d sit in the back of the car and cry,” recalls 20-year-old Helena. “The more I struggled to fit in, the more disappointed I felt.”
What can you do if you feel that you don’t belong? To answer that question, first let’s identify (1) the type of people you find it most challenging to fit in with and (2) how you typically react when you’re in their company.
Put a ✔ next to the group you just can’t seem to fit in with.
□ peers □ older youths □ adults
People who are
□ athletic □ talented □ intellectual
People who are
□ confident □ popular □ in a clique
Now put a ✔ next to the statement that describes your typical reaction to being with the people you identified above.
□ I pretend to have similar interests or abilities.
□ I ignore their interests and talk about my own.
□ I stay quiet and look for the first opportunity to leave.
Now that you’ve identified the group of people you find it most challenging to fit in with and how you’ve dealt with the situation, we’re almost ready to consider how you can find your place. First, though, there are a few dead ends to social success that you need to be aware of and avoid.
DEAD END 1: Isolation
The challenge. When you’re with people whose interests or talents differ from yours, it’s easy to feel that you’re the oddball—especially if you’re shy. “I hate trying to come up with conversation,” says 18-year-old Anita. “I’m scared I’m going to say the wrong thing.”
What the Bible says. “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) Clearly, retreating into a shell will just make matters worse. In fact, when you isolate yourself, you end up stuck in a vicious circle: Your loneliness convinces you that you don’t fit in, which makes you retreat from others, which makes you lonely, which convinces you that you don’t fit in. And you stay trapped in that cycle, going round and round, until you do something about it!
“People aren’t mind readers. If you don’t say what you want, you’re not going to get it. If you keep to yourself, you’re not going to make any friends. You have to make some sort of effort. It’s not fair to think that it’s the other person’s responsibility. Friendship is a two-way street.”—Melinda, 19.
DEAD END 2: Desperation
The challenge. Some people are so desperate to fit in that they fall into the wrong crowd—thinking that any friends are better than no friends. “I used to be so sad that I wasn’t in the popular group at school that I would almost wish I would get in trouble just to be accepted by them,” says 15-year-old René.
What the Bible says. “He that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly”—or, as the Contemporary English Version renders it, “you hurt yourself by going around with fools.” (Proverbs 13:20) Don’t misunderstand, the “stupid ones” or “fools” referred to in that verse may not be literally ignorant. On the contrary, they could be straight-A students. But if they have little regard for Bible standards, then in God’s eyes they’re fools. And you’ll only hurt yourself by being like a chameleon, changing your colors to blend in with them.—1 Corinthians 15:33.
“Not just anyone is good to hang around with. You don’t want friends who make you feel that you have to change who you are when you’re around them. You want friends who truly love you and who will be there for you.”—Paula, 21.
Take the Initiative
Don’t wait for others to walk up to you and invite you into their circle. “We can’t always expect people to reach out to us,” says 21-year-old Gene. “We need to reach out to others.” The following are two suggestions to help you do that:
Look outside your age group. Evidently, the Bible characters Jonathan and David were about 30 years apart in age, and yet they became “best friends.”* (1 Samuel 18:1, CEV) The lesson? It’s possible to fit in with adults! Think about it, Why limit yourself to one age group and then complain that you can’t find friends? That would be like starving to death on a desert island when there are fish swimming all around you! The fact is, there are good people around with whom you can fit in. And one way to find them is to look outside your age bracket.
“My mother encouraged me to try talking with older ones in the congregation. She said I’d be surprised to learn how much I had in common with them. She was right, and I now have many friends!”—Helena, 20.
Develop conversational skills. Making conversation takes effort—especially if you’re shy. But you can do it. The key is to (1) listen, (2) ask questions, and (3) show genuine concern.
“I try to be a listener rather than a talker. And when I talk, I try not to talk about myself or put others in a negative light.”—Serena, 18.
“If a person wants to talk about something that I’m not familiar with, I’ll ask him to explain things, which will hopefully make him talk to me even more.”—Jared, 21.
Perhaps you’re reserved by nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to turn into an extrovert! But if you feel that you don’t fit in with others, try out the suggestions in this article. You might come to feel the way Leah does. “I’m a shy person,” she says, “so I have to push myself to converse. But to make friends, you have to be friendly. So I’ve started talking.”
More articles from the “Young People Ask” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
Names in this article have been changed.
David was likely a teenager when he befriended Jonathan.
[Box/Pictures on page 19]
WHAT YOUR PEERS SAY
“I try to talk to at least one person I have not thought to talk to at a Christian meeting. I have found that a friendship can be sparked from a simple greeting!”
“It was easy for me to sit back and say that other people didn’t like me and that I had no chance of fitting in with them. What took real effort was to do something about it. In the end, taking the initiative pays off, and it helps build character.”
“I slowly eased my way into adults’ conversations. It was very awkward at first! But it ended up working to my benefit, because at a young age, I made lifelong friends who are always there for me.”
[Box on page 20]
WHY NOT ASK YOUR PARENTS?
Did you have problems fitting in when you were my age? What group of people was most difficult for you to fit in with? How did you deal with the situation?
[Diagram on page 20]
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THE VICIOUS CIRCLE OF LONELINESS
I am LONELY, which makes me feel . . .
. . . like an OUTCAST, which makes me . . .
. . . RETREAT, which makes me feel that . . .