It’s that time of year again. The time of year when, as a kid, I was teased mercilessly about belonging on the Island of Misfit Toys.
I always knew it was coming. It would start the day after the annual TV broadcast of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer“. From that day on, until winter break, someone would ask me if I wanted to be a dentist. At least once a day. Every day.
Why? The other kids decided that I looked exactly like Hermie the Elf on that classic Christmas special.
I don’t know why. I don’t see the resemblance. Do you?
It bothered the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be a misfit. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted. So I did my best to conform to the expectations of others.
In the show, Hermie also wanted to be accepted. The difference is, Hermie was not willing to compromise. He refused to become someone he was not, to be just like all the other elves. He insisted on being himself.
As a result, he was ostracized by his fellow elves.
Until he did something that was of direct benefit to them. Then, and only then, he was finally accepted by the rest of the elves for being his wonderful, fully individual, self.
Have you ever felt like you belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys?
It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? We prefer to fit in. We want to feel like we belong. We actively seek out groups that allow us to be one of the gang. If we can’t choose the group, we intentionally mold ourselves to fit in with whatever group we are a part of.
Guess what. People don’t win a prize for being “the most like everyone else”. (Although, we do award prizes for “most conformance to arbitrary expectations”. That is a different matter altogether.)
Take a look at those you most admire. Why do you admire them? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t because they are the best at fitting in. No. We admire those who stand out. What we most admire about them are the qualities that make them different.
Lately, I have come to embrace my inner Hermie. It’s taken me a long time. Now I honor him for knowing who he was and what he wanted to be.
As I look back over my life, I realize I have unknowingly made many choices that put me onto the Island of Misfit Toys. When I got to choose the group, it was often a group of other misfits. Those are my people. From my group of friends at the high school lunch table, to the fraternity I joined in college, to the people I most enjoy hanging out with now, I have always been happiest when surrounded by fellow misfits.
Being different can be painful. It can be lonely.
Come join me on the Island of Misfit Toys. That’s where the fun is.