Fitting In – 5 Lessons Learned When I Stopped Giving A Sh!t

If you’ve ever met me in real life, you probably know that I have a tendency to blurt out whatever is on my mind.

Sometimes what comes out of my mouth is inappropriate. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. And sometimes, it’s what everyone else is thinking but unwilling to say out loud.

But it’s who I am and I don’t care:)

What’s funny though is that I was a completely different person as a kid. Growing up, I was taught to fit in with the other kids, work hard and let my grades do all of the talking.

As a result, I was painfully shy when I was young. I never spoke up in class. I rarely initiated conversation. In fact, I was the quiet Chinese kid in the corner who rocked all of the tests, got straight As and helped to bring up the property values in my neighborhood:).

Outside of my close friends, no one knew anything about me because I rarely said a word. I blended into the background and quietly went about my studies.

But the truth is that deep down, I didn’t want to be this way. I didn’t want to be the good old Chinese nerd in class. I wanted to be liked and admired!

In fact, I would often dream about being the popular kid in school who all the girls liked. I would envision myself as the life of the party, walking down the halls with random people high fiving me left and right.

But my dreams never had a chance of becoming true because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. I was so scared of what others would think of me that I defaulted to staying silent and fitting in.

As a result, I held back much of my personality as a kid and probably missed out on being way more popular:)

Anyway, here’s how I made my transformation and what I learned in the process.

Fitting In - 5 Lessons Learned When I Stopped Caring About What Other People Think

When I First Discovered That I Had A Personality

As long as we’re digging up old baggage, here’s a childhood story of mine where one of my classmates literally stole all of my jokes and became known as the funniest kid in class.

It was 3rd grade and this boy named Al (not his real name), was assigned to sit next to me in school. We quickly became friends and I used to tell him whatever random thoughts were going on in my head.

Whenever a “Seinfeld worthy” event happened during school, I would make some sort of outrageous comment to make him laugh and he would often crack up in the middle of class.

In fact, he found my zingers so funny that he started yelling out my one liners in front of all the students!

And of course, everyone loved what came out of his mouth (because they were my jokes) and Al became known as the funniest guy in the 3rd grade.

Now what’s sad is that I never had the courage to tell my own jokes out loud because I was too afraid to speak up, and I continued to let Al steal my thunder the entire year.

But he made me realize that I had a funny personality.

Coming Out Of My Shell

chick

Anyway, after hiding in Al’s shadow all of 3rd grade, I slowly started speaking up more. And I realized that it was ok to say whatever was on my mind. In fact it was cathartic!

The summer of 8th grade was when I truly came out of my shell.

That summer, I was sent away to overnight camp at Franklin and Marshall college for 3 weeks and it was my first opportunity to experiment with my new “I’m going to say whatever” philosophy.

No longer was I stuck in an environment where I was expected to be the quiet nerd and I could start all over.

At this camp, no one had any preconceived notions about my personality. It was my chance to let loose with zero consequences because I would never see these kids again.

In fact, it was at this summer camp that I realized that acting “normal” made me stand out.

That summer, I finally experienced what it felt like to be a popular kid and I met my first girlfriend that year!

Sometimes a change of environment is necessary to hit your reset button.

When you are stuck in the same peer group for too long, you can get pigeon holed with a certain persona that can be hard to break out of.

Anyway, I came back from summer camp that year with some major life lessons that I’ll share with you below.

Lesson #1: No One Is Paying Attention To You

The first lesson I learned is that we think too highly of ourselves:) When you are insecure about yourself, paranoia dictates that everyone is watching your every move.

But it’s usually the complete opposite!

In fact, I always chuckle whenever my wife asks me for my opinion before we go out.

Wife: Should I go with the pearl earrings or the diamond studs for this party?
Me: They both look beautiful (This is the correct answer for every question btw)
Wife: Hmm… I don’t know…
Me: Honey, we’ve got to get going. No one is going to care
Wife: I care!!!

Have you ever spent way too much time thinking about what you’re going to wear? Have you ever been worried about how you’re dressed or how you look?

One time, I was so paranoid about a stain in my pants that I purposely sat cross legged on the sofa for an entire night so no one would notice.

This is the scenario that we all secretly picture in our minds.

paparazzi

But in reality, everyone is just planning their next selfie:)

selfie

Overall, we give ourselves too much credit. No one is paying close attention to you and it’s all in your head.

Lesson #2: Your Fears Are Usually Irrational

fear

The consequences of our fears are usually much less dire than we envision.

For example, when my wife and I first launched our ecommerce store, we were both terrified of failing and losing all of our money.

In my mind, I pictured myself getting ridiculed by my Stanford classmates. After all, selling handkerchiefs online is not a glamorous business by any means. And to fail at it? That would be downright embarrassing.

I also had frequent nightmares of my wife and I at the side of the road begging for money. Totally irrational I know!

In reality, we invested roughly $630 dollars into our online store and a ton of sweat equity. There was nothing for us to lose except for our pride.

Worse case scenario? The business fails, my wife goes back to work and life goes on.

When I was younger, I used to be afraid of approaching women and strangers because I was terrified of rejection. But these days, I simply ask myself, “What’s the worse that can happen?”

If I get rejected, is this going to profoundly affect my life? The answer is almost always no.

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Lesson #3: When You Speak Your Mind, People Listen

shout

When I first started blogging back in 2009, I played it safe by writing canned tutorials about ecommerce. I took what I read online and what I implemented with my online store and stuck strictly to the facts.

At the time, I didn’t express my own opinions with my writing because I didn’t want anyone to disagree with me. I wanted everyone to like me and agree with everything I said.

It was like 3rd grade all over again!

I was afraid to write about how I truly felt. I didn’t want to say anything bad about the tools that I was using nor did I stray from writing about what was generally accepted as “best practice”.

As result, my blog was a total failure for the first few years because my writing was a regurgitation of what was already out there.

There was no soul to my posts. I never took a strong stance on anything.

But when I finally got personal and expressed my opinion, my articles immediately gained traction. No one likes to read “bland” content that plays it safe. People want to hear what’s on in your mind!

Someone once told me that you aren’t truly successful until you get your first piece of hate mail and I truly believe this statement. Unless you are striking a nerve with your audience, you’ll never be successful.

Overall, people always gravitate towards an individual with a strong opinion whether they disagree or not. You can’t please everyone but if you try, you’ll please no one.

Lesson #4: No One Who “Fits In” Is Ever Wildly Successful

fitting in

If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from trading stocks that applies to everything in life, it’s that if you follow the crowd, you will never accomplish anything extraordinary.

Why is Warren Buffett so successful? It’s because he buys stocks when no one else wants to buy. He doesn’t panic when other people are frantically liquidating their holdings.

The same is true in business and life.

If you sell similar products online as everyone else, then your prices will quickly spiral to the bottom. If you use the same marketing tactics as every other business, then you will never make any sales.

The secret to success is being weird.

Don’t think you’re weird? I call BS:). Everyone is weird in their own way. If you ever meet someone who isn’t strange, then be very suspicious because they are hiding something from you:)

The sooner you embrace your eccentricities, the sooner you’ll achieve your goals in life.

In fact, the most successful people I know are all quirky and they leverage their quirkiness to their advantage.

For example, Pat Flynn leverages his geekiness and his love for Back To The Future to be relatable to his audience.

Derek Halpern runs his snarky mouth and people love it!

I often send photoshopped images to my podcast guests as a joke. Here are some of my works of art:)

Jen Hansard

I sent this picture to Jen Hansard, the founder of Simple Green Smoothies, threatening to expose this image of her drinking a Blended Caramel Ribbon Crunch Crème Frappuccino Macchiato instead of her smoothies:).

Tony Horton

I sent a similar accusation to Tony Horton, founder of the hit workout P90X, threatening to expose this picture of him eating McDonalds french fries amidst a sea of junk food.

If you haven’t experienced success yet in your life, then it’s probably because you are doing what everyone else is already doing.

Embrace your inner crazy, be bold and take some action:)

Lesson #5: Only Pay Attention To People Who Matter

attention

Even though I try my best to ignore what other people think, it’s human nature to care. But I’ve trained myself over the years to only care about the opinions from people who matter in my life.

Having blogged for over a decade, I’ve received my fair share of hate mail over the years. And these letters contain some of the most hateful language that you’ll ever read.

But here’s what I tell myself.

You’ll never meet 99.9% of the people who don’t agree with you so why waste time thinking about it?

Focus on the opinions of the people you trust and admire because those are the only opinions that matter.

And if you ever do meet a hater in person? I’m willing to bet that they’ll be nicer than you think. After all, those who feel anonymous hiding behind a computer screen are much bolder than they are in real life.

In fact, I’ve spoken with a few haters in my day who were perfectly nice individuals when I interacted with them on Skype or met them in person.

Moral of the story. Don’t be afraid of the hate. Embrace it because it means you are doing something right!

Don’t Bottle Up Your Inner Thoughts

Finally, the biggest turning point in my life came when I stopped bottling myself up and pushing down my personality.

After all, it’s human nature to not rock the boat and try to blend in.

But in reality, embracing your inner weird is the only way to stand out.

Remember…

  • Almost nothing that you’re scared of is actually that scary
  • Not everyone will like you but the only way to discover who does is to be yourself
  • People naturally gravitate towards opinionated people
  • Weird is interesting. Conformity is not.

Here’s to breaking out of your shell! It took a 3rd grader named Al and an 8th grade summer camp to bust out of mine and I hope to experience your quirky personality in person some day!

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9 thoughts on “Fitting In – 5 Lessons Learned When I Stopped Giving A Sh!t”

  1. Derek says:

    IM NOT SNARKY! IM ME!

  2. Verne says:

    Great post, spot on !!!!!

  3. Forrest says:

    Steve, Your comments are spot on. I’m a psychologist and have heard these concerns in nearly every person who has sat across from me and spoken of feeling that life was passing them bye. Happiness lies on the other side of our fears. I like your straight forward advice for how to get there.

  4. Mike says:

    Steve, great post. One of the main reasons that I follow your blog is because you provide your honest opinion. Too many bloggers are trying to please everyone and the truth ends up lost. I enjoy reading and learning from your blog.

  5. Sue says:

    Love this Steve, I am a Singaporean Chinese and I think that most Asian families do not encourage their children to speak up so we often grow up shy, unsure of ourselves and afraid of looking like an idiot. But the good thing is that we can grow out of it and I think that age, experience, good friends and spouses who appreciate you for who you are helps all of us break out of that shell for sure.

  6. CS says:

    I like this post!

  7. KO says:

    Love this post! One of the realest and most enlightening posts I’ve seen 💯

  8. WhoCares? says:

    In the spirit of not giving a sh!t, allow me to type for a minute. I have spent much of my life not caring what other people think; it has not lead to any “success.” No I know success to all of you is strictly financial (yes, it is, stop lying) I have noticed that those around me that have been “successful” (money, married, kids, houses, etc., which is what is meant by “successful,” but y’all already knew that) has “fit in.” For 95% of people the ‘formula’ does work, it’s as simple as that. This is experience. I never needed to train myself to ‘break free’ and what-not, I say this as a lifelong not-give-a-sh!ter.

  9. Daniel Bell says:

    Wonderful post!

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