‘fitting in’: a lifetime predicament.

I’m going to try writing this down to find out if I can make sense of this ache…

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I have struggled to fit in my whole life to the point it now feels like a lifetime predicament.

Fitting in. How I loathe these 2 words.

These days I wonder if it is a psychological misgiving than an actual reality. In other words: do I make things difficult for myself? Is it me – not my surroundings whether crowd, place, culture and the like?

Years ago, still Stateside, Eldest Sis wrote an email to me – it was still a time of letter-writing and this one was particlarly memorable because of how unexpected it was; out-of-the-blue, a single email without a previous thread.

“I was talking to Third Sis today… about yardsticks in our lives. I believe each person has a fundamental essence that her or she needs to keep feeling appreciation and alive. I know mine is meaning in my life, and not regretting my life decisions. If I keep doing things in my life which don’t bring me spiritual meaning and which I will regret, my life will be empty. I told Third Sis what I think her yardstick is.

So I’ll tell you what I think your yardstick is. You can disagree absolutely… But I do feel your yardstick is acceptance. Acceptance of your achievements and downfalls, acceptance of the decisions you’ve made so far, acceptance of your own self, and by other people. I just want you to remember that before any degree of acceptance, you have to first accept yourself…

Accept that you’re privileged, you’re lucky, you’re a hard worker, you’re a thankful Muslim… Accept that you’re stubborn, you can be bratty, that the world is too big for you to completely fit in or change. Accept your physical self, accept what makes your heart burn with motivation, and what makes you cry. There are so many other parts of you, as I’m sure you know…

With you accepting yourself – completely – you will be self-secure. It isn’t easy, cos it’s not fun to look ourselves in the mirror. But when you are self- secure, it doesn’t matter who you’re with or where you are, cos you know the best person you can be is you. I tell you this because I know you haven’t accepted yourself completely... And I hope you will – through sweat and tears and joy and anger – so that you’ll live your life fully and without fear, except fear of the Almighty.

If you don’t think this is your yardstick, then try to define to yourself what it is. This yardstick is how you look at your life, how you measure how worthy your life is… no matter what it is, you’ve to find it, and embrace it. Your life will then be fulfilling.”

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I have struggled my whole life to fit in.

Culturally and racially it is a lifetime’s battle as a half-Chinese, half-Malay person who has no strong association with either sides whether that is in terms of ethnicity, cultural practices and history. Societally it is the wide divide between urban and rural; since I left high school up until last night, I have heard variation of these words pointed towards me countless times – “You’re in the top 10% of our society.” Privileged, in other words, and no matter how I try to foolishly deny or wipe off the smear and attempt to explain – “Who are you kidding? Just accept it. Your starting point was already miles ahead.”

When I studied abroad in the US, first in Philly, PA for undergrad then Stanford, CA for grad school, the struggles of fitting in came in manifold. There was the usual global anxiety and ignorance – I was a Malaysian minority in both of these universities, and with Malaysia being a generally good-not-great country we didn’t make headlines so whenever I get asked where I’m from, my answer would often derive puzzled expressions or fake nonchalance; many had no idea where Malaysia is. Bizzare. Beyond the international borders though were the frays that makeup societies and defined individuals – racial, cross-cultural, religion…  I was again, as I keep finding myself, a minority. An outlier. Some parts of me always seem to fall out of the norm of the micro-communities and spaces I were and am part of.

Lately I struggle a lot with fitting in professionally, in my workplace.

I wonder if I create and perpetuate this struggle – after an ongoing lifetime’s worth of trying to fit in in my personal life, do I now project and weave these patterns into my workplace? Is this cancer systemic and inherent of my current professional community and workplace, or am I the one who is guilty of adopting the victim mindset?

I am in pain and finding myself unable to verbalize and make coherent this struggle without feeling like being personally attacked – how dare you turn my lifetime’s predicament and struggle into a joke or dismiss it as myself being overemotional?  – or ruled as being someone who is unable to perform in a highly diversified environment or worse, someone who is typical to the sterotype of a Muslim woman with a headscarf on.

Please. Watch your perspective – I am the last person to be thought of as typical.

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I was told last night by my senior/colleague/friend – whom I love, but also can’t help but be hurt by her persistent jabs and judgments of who I am and who she thinks I ought to be – that I lack support system here; I’m unable to trust my friends here and all these stem from – perhaps a measure of – the depth of my loneliness. This is still something I can’t figure out, to be honest, but what I do understand I know that I disagree wholly.

I countered her and told her not everyone gets an A, her best friend with whom together they are literally inseparable, in their lives. I have instead pockets of A in different people in my life (which I also believe is more common) and while that may mean I don’t trust them unconditionally, it doesn’t mean I don’t at all or they can’t be counted upon.

But that bit about loneliness… it gets to me though I don’t know why. She said my constant longing and desire to fit in, a desperation almost towards this idea of fitting in which is thus also a hunger for acceptance – my Eldest Sis’ views of my yardstick from years ago is spot-on – is because I’m constantly and believe that I’m ultimately alone.

But I don’t… I don’t get what and why this is an issue? Because that is a fact. I’m alone. I’ve been largely alone and on my own since I left home at the age of 19. What does this have to do with my handicap and longing of wanting to fit in? What I do understand and continue to berate myself is this question of why can’t I accept instead that some things about me can’t be reconciled and be okay about them, celebrate even being one who stands out? But… where, how – why is my longing for belonging, fitting in – acceptance – a measure of the depth of my loneliness? Why are these two things associated? How?

Sigh. I wish she didn’t make light of this; this is the second person in a week.

I am in so much pain recently, my insides ache all over.

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