Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What to remember when you feel like you don't belong

I'm sitting in a hotel restaurant eating breakfast with a few dozen strangers. All in business attire. And all about 20+ years older than me. To be honest, I o
ften I feel like I can relate more with the hotel staff than the patrons.

I've experienced this many times as a young author and speaker, but this morning this feeling of not belonging has reminded of something important that I think is so relevant to where you are today:

When you don't fit in it usually means you're a trailblazer. 

I watched a documentary on Civil Rights on the airplane ride here and I was struck by the first-hand account of one woman's experience as the first black woman to walk across her high school's stage a few years after segregation was ruled unlawful. 

She was the only young black woman in her classes. She was ostracized and she hated school. Even when she graduated, she reports simply being happy she'd never have to go back. 

Whether she realized it or not, she was a trailblazer; but no one ever tells you being a trailblazer can be a lonely path. In fact, it's easy to fit in when you're doing things just like everyone else. 

It's much harder when you're trying to do something new, something different, something to change things.

I was thinking about this phenomenon and you yesterday when I read a great article in The Atlantic about a young Latino man who is the first in his family to go to college; it explains how he struggled to fit into a college where it seemed everyone else but him came from the upper classes. 

I had this same experience when I received a scholarship to finish my education at a private liberal arts college, and I've heard a similar story countless times from the trailblazing community college students who go on to some of the best colleges in the country, as well as those community college students who are trailblazing college for the first time in their family.

Being first is hard. Being first can be lonely. 

But I want to remind you today that being first is also beautiful. 

It's one of the best gifts you can give those who have sacrificed before you and those whose hopes you will fulfill who come after you - those for whom it will be easier because of you

So on behalf of everyone who's been lonely before you and all those whose lives will be changed because of you I want to say thank you. 

Keep going. Make friends with the strangers who aren't like you and teach them about you. Help them understand where you come from, and try to learn where they're coming from.

Continue to improve yourself through your education, and when you graduate and gain the power that comes with that, do your best to inspire more trailblazers so that being low-income, a minority, or the first in your family to attend college will no longer feel like a foreign experience. 

My dream, is for that to be the new normal. 

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