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Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different

‘From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.’ ~Bill Watterson

Goodness knows I’ve put in my share of being different than most people. I’ve had to explain myself more times than is believable, and I’ve dealt with people avoiding my company because of my differentness.

And yet, despite the hassles and the isolation, I wouldn’t want to give up my differentness.

It’s who I am. And being like everyone else would be less authentic.

How am I different? Here are a few examples:

  • I’m vegan
  • I unschool my kids
  • I’m a minimalist (and wear the same clothes over and over, have very little)
  • My family and I are car-free
  • Recently I haven’t been eating eat sugar or flour or fried foods
  • I meditate
  • I don’t have a “real” job (people don’t seem to understand what a blogger does)
  • I mostly live without goals
  • I don’t eat fast food
  • I don’t have debt, nor own a home (nor do I plan to anytime soon)

None of that is to brag — I don’t think any of those makes me any better than anyone else, nor do I think I’m the first to do any of these. They’re just a part of who I am — and in fact, I’m different in many less visible ways.

I’m also similar to most people in many ways — I fail, I hurt, I get scared, I get angry, I am shy, I doubt myself. I am human and imperfect.

But the differences stand out when I socialize.

The Social Costs of Being Different

My differences isolate me and make me have to explain myself and make me have less in common with other people.

For example, when I socialize:

  • If we’re eating, I always have to explain my vegan-ness. I always have to answer questions about protein, and what would happen to the animals if we didn’t provide for them (before we slaughter them), and isn’t soy bad for you, and so on. My veganism becomes the focus of conversation, making me feel a bit weird because I don’t eat like everyone else.
  • If everyone else is eating fast food or desserts, I abstain. They seem to love it, but I can’t agree, so I’m not a part of it.
  • Being different means some people don’t know what to talk to me about, because the normal topics don’t apply to me. It’s harder for them to relate.
  • People get defensive about my differences — unschooling makes them feel like bad parents if they send/sent their kids to school, and veganism can make them try to defend their way of eating, and so on.
  • I get teased (usually in a good-natured way, but still) about eating rabbit food or having an empty house or c’mon, wouldn’t you just love some of this delicious meat (not really).
  • People judge me, or if they don’t judge, they just see me as different.
  • Sometimes family members actually get mad at us for being different than them, or for being bad parents (as vegans or unschoolers).
  • Some people refuse to eat our food, which means they are less likely to visit.
  • Sometimes I just don’t feel like hanging out with people who are being unhealthy or going through life not caring about what they do or who just want to get drunk or stoned. I don’t think they’re bad people, but it’s not that fun for me.

That’s just the start of it, but you get the idea. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If you’re different, do you feel social isolation from many people? You might not have the same differences as me, but maybe you see some commonalities here.

What’s a person to do? I have some strategies.

Dealing With the Social Costs

I might have painted a negative picture above, but actually there are lots of ways to deal with these challenges, and also lots of positives:

  1. Embrace your differences. While being different can be a bit hard, it’s not a bad thing. Being different is who makes you who you are. It means you’re daring to live your own life, on your terms, with your values. It means you have courage to stand out from the mainstream. It means you’re interesting. Hug those differences, be grateful for them, own them. Be proud of them.
  2. See the teaching opportunity. Part of why I live my life differently is to be an example, to show that there are alternatives, that we don’t have to be consumerists or buy into the system or support factory farming or be unhealthy or give our responsibility to educate our kids away (for example). And so when people have questions, as tiring as they can be, actually I am grateful for the opportunity to educate, to share, to explore interesting ground with people. I actually love talking about unschooling, for example, and while I know people have objections, I had those objections too once, and I have explored answers to them that I’d love to share. It can be tiring, but it can also be a wonderful thing that someone else is curious. Curiosity is a gift.
  3. Find company in yourself. You can be at a party, in the middle of a crowd of people who don’t connect with you, and be perfectly OK. It’s not necessarily lonely if you like your own company. But you also don’t have to be isolated — see the next item.
  4. Be curious. If you’re isolated at a party, there are ways to beat this. For example, don’t think just because people are different than you that you don’t have things in common. Be curious about them, and instead of thinking, “They don’t understand”, realize that maybe you don’t understand. Get to know them, see the beauty in them, find things that you love, understand why they live the way they do. Listen. Look.
  5. Find friends who understand. The above notwithstanding, there are people who will embrace your differences, even think you’re awesome because of them. They might also be vegan (for example), or they might just be very individualistic people who think your radical-ness is cool. You share stories about your lives, find them fascinating, want to hang out. And in this exploration, you meet some fascinating open-minded people you can connect with.
  6. The nay-sayers drift. While I love my family and old friends who don’t understand my differences, if they constantly attack and get angry and talk behind my back, I probably won’t want to hang out with them as much. They tend to drift out of my life, because they don’t really want to engage in an open discussion, and that makes it hard to have a relationship.
  7. Turn your different-ness into an advantage. While there might be costs to being different, actually there are huge benefits too. Being different means you stand out, which is a good thing in a world where everyone is trying to blend in. It means you’re interesting, because you’re different. It means you are less restricted by what’s comfortable, able to explore new ground, not afraid of things because you don’t know about them. It means you’re learning more than most people. These are huge advantages, if you use them to build a business, make friends, and live the life you want to live.

I’m not going to pretend that being different is easy. But it is the only way I would live.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC