Here is a story that will tell you something about me.

I am in my first month at a new job. I am surrounded by a few colleagues who are the smartest people I ever worked with.

The conversation turns to people’s history. We come to realize that all of us have felt like a misfit at one point or another in our past.

“For me it was in elementary school, I always felt like the odd one out,” says one.

“I was the misfit in college, never seemed to find my group to belong to,” says another.

“In high school,” says a third. “I felt like an oddball. It took until I got to college to feel comfortable.”

They turn to me and ask, “Josh, when did you feel like a misfit?”

I stare back and them and say, “Right now, actually.”

They laugh.

“I don’t know if I belong here.”

They stop laughing and looking uncomfortable. The conversation continues.

I kept that job for 20 years.

What does this story tell you about me?

I am honest, even when it would be better not to be.

I try to look at things from a twisted and oddball perspective, like any comedian. Not always the best strategy at work. But it does result in some creative ideas.

I am far too attracted to the smartass remark to be fully successful.

When everyone is going left, I have an uncontrollable urge to go right, go back, or go up — anywhere but where everyone else is going.

I value integrity and honesty more than my career. I will not just “go along.” This is one way to succeed. It is not the easiest way.

And I really do feel like a misfit. Always.

I have found only one person who actually understands me. She even seems to appreciate me. I married her, because it seemed like a good thing to hold onto someone like that. (It was.)

I have found plenty of people who were impressed with me or admired me. That was nice. But as they get closer, people eventually figure out what a deeply weird way I have of thinking. As a result, they don’t become close friends, because they don’t really understand me. That’s okay.

I am proof that you can gain some success as a contrarian, smartass misfit with poor impulse control, provided you have a few other talents. It will not be comfortable. But you can, eventually, become comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is enough.

If you feel like a misfit, right now, I hope this will help. If you find someone who understands your uniqueness, hang on to them. They will be a little weird, too. Learn to appreciate that.

And find a way to connect with the other people in whatever ways you can. It may not be completely comfortable for them. It may not be completely comfortable for you. But don’t lose who you are just to fit in, even if who you are is a little weird.

You’ll find your way in the world, eventually.

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  1. Why didn’t I hear this when I was 12? Lesson learned when I was in my 30s…
    There’s a lot of us out there, thanks for the reminder!

  2. Yours seems a much more satisfying approach than the many of us who exist as people pleasers. Thanks for the thoughtful write

  3. What a surprise!
    From my perspective you were a wonderful child, an excellent student, brilliant and creative in your career, also a terrific husband and father, and a caring son.

  4. Now I know why I like you so much. I, too, am often a contrarian. When the group all wants to go one way, I have to peek in the other direction no matter what. I, too, have to watch my smartass remarks. (My backspace button is probably the most worn key on the keypad.)

    Thank you for sharing such a profound lesson.

  5. Me, too. And I, too, lucked out with a supportive spouse and, wonder-of-wonders, a group of friends who truly get me. Some bosses and coworkers, not so much. But I’ve managed to stay employed more than 40 years. And my favorite people are fellow misfits.

  6. My contrarian, smartass approach to life showed up early and often, and while I’ve had to significantly throttle back a lot of it for the sake of not stepping on endless toes, it has always been fun to interact with you, a similarly-wired soul.

  7. Contrarians are to be prized.

    I have watched too many senior people reward subordinates who make them comfortable just before driving their organization over a cliff. All the big organizational or personal flame outs I have seen in my lifetime could have been prevented if there was a truth teller in the mix who said, “Wait a minute. Do you realize where this may lead?” To slippery slopes and thin ice, that’s where.

    Anyway, here’s to misfits, contrarians and chronic truth tellers!