Finding Your Path
It’s Different For Everyone
I’ve never really belonged.
There is no group that I hobnob with nor want to join. I pick and choose individuals from here and there whose company I enjoy, but I don’t try to join the group they identify with either.
I’ve been through solo boot camp and survived.
It could be that I lacked the social experiences in my formative years. It could also be that I’m naturally wired this way, you know, to avoid crowds, noise, and people.
I grew up outside the confines of mainstream American life in a closed society.
It was a religious cult. I couldn’t go anywhere that people didn’t stare at me. Everyone knew at first glance that I wasn’t a member of their group.
The cult garb for women consisted of a long gray dress almost to the ground, long uncut hair in a bun at the nape of the woman’s neck, black stockings, and plain shoes. We also had an extra layer to our uniform, a cape that fit over the bodice of the dress and buttoned at the waist. It was designed to hide any possible gaps between the buttons on the shirtwaist dress and to camouflage the shape of the bosom. No jewelry, no makeup, and I was set to go any day of the week. Inside my closet hung four to five identical uniforms. The clothing was designed to cover up any originality or creativity, making us all identical. We were modest and shamefaced as the Bible instructed women to be.
See what I mean?
You can’t help staring at a young woman so attired. If you had seen me walking down the street, you’d have known right away that I wasn’t a member of your group.
We stare at people who are different.
All people from all cultures do that. We’re so deeply conditioned to see the world through the lens of our culture that we’re shocked and taken aback when we see someone who doesn’t match the description we were handed at birth.
I certainly didn’t fit the description of a typical American girl.
At first glance most people called me ma’am or sometimes Sister. Even at the tender age of twelve that’s how they saw me because they thought the child standing in front of them was a nun.
Just goes to show you that people don’t look at faces until the very last and at our hearts and minds almost never.
Somehow along life’s trail I’ve lost or misplaced all my pictures of myself as a youngster growing up in a cult. Weird, eh? Is there a chance that I lost those pictures accidentally on purpose because my mind tricked me into denialism? Do I believe that I don’t want to belong because I grew up and didn’t belong, so I’ve taken the outsider’s point of view, turning the table on the world so to speak.
You don’t want me. So, I don’t want you.
Anything’s possible when it comes to the human brain’s way of coping with life. Why just the other day, I met a woman who had been married three times to three different men who all treated her poorly, but when a nice guy came along, she told me in secret that she thought he was boring.
So, I suppose, my childhood as an outsider could have turned me into a total nonconformist, but I don’t think so.
I did get toughened up early to not care all that much about what people thought of me. You know during those sensitive formative years when teenagers are dating, having sex in the back seat of their parent’s cars, hanging with the crowd or longing to, and trying to figure out if they were attractive enough to get by, I was doing none of the above.
I already knew that everyone stared at me. They couldn’t take their eyes off me for that matter. I was always the uninvited center of attention wherever I went.
By the time I left the cult and entered mainstream American society, I was basically immune to what people thought of me.
Turns out I was pretty and a pretty girl afloat in a river of mainstream Americans wasn’t a whole lot better than being in the cult. I couldn’t trust people to have my best interest in mind at all. So, I spent a good decade plus trying to figure out how to survive without a family in a foreign culture without any money and with little practical experience.
Let’s just leave it at that. Shall we?
Eventually, I returned to who I am and things started to be less confusing. It was then that I realized that I have always been grounded. I may have been raised in the equivalent of a Mosquito Coast environment, but I always had a strong sixth sense about who I was and what I preferred. As I collected mainstream experiences, things became clearer and clearer to me.
It was almost as though I was handed a list of options.
I went down the list one by one checking the box or leaving it blank according to what aligned with who I am. I’m not materialistic. Check that box. I prefer experiences to things. Check that box. I’m not a small talker. Check that box. I prefer a one-on-one meeting of the minds rather than mindless chatter in a group. Check that box. I seek creative opportunities and experiences. Check that box.
The list is long allowing my experiences to be numerous and varied.
But once I began to lean heavily on my intuition and my personal identity, it became easier and easier to figure out how I wanted to live my life. Suddenly, I was off and running.
Trust me, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t meet a lot of obstacles along the way.
Surprisingly, people weren’t all that interested in my happiness or my success. So, it was just as good that I didn’t give a shit about what they thought. And I still don’t.
In the end, I think my desire to walk a path less traveled has benefitted me.
I’ve stayed out of trouble for the most part. That’s not always true of kids who come from very strict backgrounds. I became quite focused on the things that interest me. That’s prompted me to think outside the box on more than one occasion. I’ve ended up doing things that I might never have done if I had stuck to the mainstream formula. I have a few regrets, of course, but looking back over the years, I’m glad I was able to eventually figure some things out for myself.
Lord knows there were few shining examples.
In a world of tribes and clubs, it can be challenging to refuse to play the game, but I happen to think that people who lead the most fulfilled lives are those who go their own way.
What do you think?
Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.