The Illusions of Money, Power, and Fame: Why Fitting in Is Overrated

If I could go back in time and give my awkward, chubby, baggy-T-shirt-wearing, 14 year-old self some advice, it would be this: fitting in is overrated.

Bicycle
Photo Credit: Photochiel via Compfight cc

Even then, with my grunge music and superfluous flannel shirts, I believed it could be true. That the promises of this world are not worth what we have to trade to get them. But now, as an adult, I know this to be true.

Things are not often what they seem.

Take money, for example…

Now I know that having money and being rich are not the same thing.

I have met people who made more money than most of us would know what to do with it and then spent it all. These people finance their houses and lease new cars all to maintain an image.

And I have met those who drive beat-up old trucks and wear worn-out baseball caps and are worth millions.

What we see, or rather what we think we see, is not always what is.

…then there’s power…

I wish I could go back and tell myself that bullies are not big. They are, in fact, quite small.

I would also remind the teenage me that they never go away, so you had better start facing your giants now.

There will always be those who want to squash your creativity and belittle your uniqueness, but this is not power. It is the pinnacle of weakness and cowardice, and it’s waiting to be exposed.

So gird yourself, and get ready to be brave. It will be a lifetime requirement.

…and let’s not forget fame

Some of the most famous people I know are also the most lonely. In fact, many of these people have traded success for fame, content to be known over doing something that mattered.

I know people who have millions of fans and don’t know where next month’s rent is coming from, whose names you would recognize and yet whose own families have forgotten their faces.

This, sometimes, is the cost of a “cool” membership card.

To be liked and accepted by the masses is not all it’s cracked up to be. Fame is a fickle mistress whose never quite satisfied. She will, in time, rob us for everything we have.

But there’s good news, too

If I sensed my younger self getting depressed or starting to roll his eyes, I would tell him one last thing: what makes you weird is what makes you you (tweet that).

So embrace it.

All these urges to fit in and conform and be liked, these won’t get you very far in life. And soon, you will see that the weirdos, the misfits, the outcasts, these are the people who get things done. Who truly change the world.

There is a downside to being too popular and a cost to having too much money. And there is a peculiar sort of wealth that accompanies struggle and lack, sometimes.

Don’t fight these things. Don’t dream of another reality or try to be someone you’re not. You will eventually regret the effort you spent on such pursuits and wish you would have stood up to to more bullies, stopped worrying so much about status, and got on with being the strangest, strongest version of yourself you could be.

Weird Quote
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And as you move towards to your calling, that special thing you were born to do, you will find yourself accessing all the skills you once thought were weaknesses, those embarrassing quirks and personality traits you used to hate, and you will find a use for them all.

The things you wanted to wish away will become your greatest assets.

So now that you know these things, that everything that once seemed to matter actually doesn’t, what’re you going to do? Will you embrace your weirdness, or will you keep trying to fit in?

That’s what I would tell my younger self (in addition to what I already said). And I would ask you the same.

Today is my dad’s birthday, and I know of no one who has better taught me these lessons than him. But since you don’t have the privilege of knowing him, here are a few books that explore these topics:

  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell: This is a great read, especially when it comes to debunking the myth that you need power or authority to make a difference.
  • The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth by Chris Brogan: This is a business book about why misfits, or “freaks,” are the ones primed for success.
  • The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday: This is a motivational book about how you can turn weakness and failure into power. It’s a quick read with inspiring vignettes from some of history’s greatest leaders, and it’s currently on sale.

You can also get one of the above books for free when you join Audible (which is a service I use, recommend, and am a proud affiliate for).

Reminder: I’m hosting a free live training on podcasting with my friend Jeff Brown who has over 26 years of radio experience. Click here to sign up to join us at 2:00 p.m. CST.

What’s something that makes you not fit in that you need to embrace instead of avoid? Share in the comments.

83 thoughts on “The Illusions of Money, Power, and Fame: Why Fitting in Is Overrated

  1. Amazing post, Jeff!
    I feel like my sixteen-year-old self and my current self are not alike in any respect, although the latter is only two years older! My priorities then were to be popular, fit in, make all the bullies like me… but now I’ve realised that you can’t make everyone like you, and you don’t have to change your quirks to make it big in life. It’s more important to be confident in your own skin, find real success in your friends and family and just be… happy. Isn’t that what life is all about? πŸ™‚

    1. Hah! I take this as a high compliment β€” words from a self-proclaimed misfit! I just mentioned you to my sister, Scott, who’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. I was like, “Move to Costa Rica and live the good life. I know a guy who did just that.” You’re an inspiration, even when you don’t realize it.

  2. My young early 20s something son said “Mom you’re a dork”. I have come to believe that as a compliment. Believing that I like to make it fun and sometimes silly. I love to encourage the least bit of creativity and goodness that peeks it’s little head. Loved your article. Dawn

    1. Absolutely, Dawn! “Dork” w/ that “you’re actually pretty cool” grin on their face can be one of the most genuine terms of endearment when coming from our children.

    2. Right. What he’s really saying is, “I don’t understand you.” Which is a good thing, because he’s got a lot of life left to live before he catches up to your wisdom. πŸ™‚

  3. I changed to a vegetarian diet (to try and get off blood pressure meds) a few months ago and have recently told more family and friends about it. I avoided telling others about it at first because of the stigma associated with vegetarianism.

    When I started to lose weight, more people began to notice and ask me how, I’d just say that I’m eating healthier. I avoided saying, “I don’t eat any more meat.”

    I’m embracing this lifestyle change a little more now. I guess you could say that I’m accepting it more myself and getting comfortable with it.

    So yeah, talk about not feeling like I fit it in, this does it for me.

    1. Yeah. I hear that. I did a vegan cleanse thing for about a month back in December. It’s an awkward conversation especially when you’re not trying to make others feel judged or whatever. Good for you, Joe!

  4. The temptation to want to fit in with the majority seemingly always exists. I think it’s there because it’s easier. When you “fit in” you don’t have answer questions, navigate conflict, or deal with sideways glances. It’s not always easy to be different but it can be more meaningful.

  5. OMG I love this post so much. Especially the whole “what makes you weird is what makes you you” thing. Sixteen-year-old me was more than a bit sad about not fitting in–I played violin, constantly read, and was always writing short stories–but looking back, I am so glad I was the way I was and not like everyone else.

    1. Exactly. The funny thing is everyone is weird in their own way. But it’s only those who embrace their weirdness to lead extraordinary lives. Keep doing just that, Natalie.

  6. This is such a great post. My friends think we are weird because we are trying to get out of debt and have no credit cards. I know a lot of those people you wrote about, who have fabulous incomes and have nothing but a lot of debt. Being a CPA, I have had the opportunity to help lead others out of debt which has been very rewarding. It’s okay to be weird because normal is broke and that sucks.

  7. Yes. Yes. Such great thinking! My 15 year old self was such a misfit that I thought a cosmic error had occurred and I was born in the wrong century. I just didn’t identify with anyone around me. I was a closet philosopher and asked, “Why?” to just about everything and everyone. My daughter told me yesterday that raising a kid with the need for “cool” is like Chinese foot binding. She said it’s “soul binding.” When you do finally release those little feet, they grow weird.

  8. Well said. — For me, I decided a few years ago that I was going to do my best to stop comparing myself to others or trying to chase their success (or what I perceived their success to be). Instead, I’m trying to live the life that God has called only me to lead. It’s so easy to get tripped up thinking we should be someone or somewhere that we are not (when we compare our journey to someone elses) but often we’re right where we need to be to grow, learn, or be shaped for what’s next… we just have to embrace it.

    1. Fascinating that you struggled with this, Daniel. I never would have guessed that, given how comfortable you seem with yourself. Admittedly, this is an ongoing struggle with my that I’m trying to release. We should talk about it.

      1. Ha ha. I’ve heard it said that most of us are like the rest of us. Most of us struggle with the same things. Some of us are just better at masking it. : )

  9. I love to write, and, in my circle of friends, that is a pretty weird thing that they can’t understand (or don’t want to). They all place a high value on things, and my husband and I are really trying to go against the grain. We have a lot and we have found that it complicates our lives. I was always one to embrace the creative and technical sides of my brain, but I think that my creative brain is finally saying, “enough, it’s my turn!”.

      1. I really don’t like some of the reactions I get when I tell people that I am a writer, but I have learned to ignore them. The funny part is that it is actually easier, though, now for me to explain what I do than with some of my past jobs (non-profit manufacturing consultant for a program partially funded by the state and federal government was a mouthful and I got a lot of inquisitive looks). Stay strong on the writing thing, and just ignore people that don’t get it (not everyone has to, right?).

  10. This is inspiring, so true! Young people need to embrace who they are. I think as writers we are lucky enough to turn awkward/weird situations into good content when writing.

  11. Dude. Love that quote.

    For me, it’s my philosophy that we were born to change the world. That’s weird.

    Most people would rather think we were born to aimlessly drift through life, watch Dr. Phil and the View, barely get by, and maybe just maybe raise a child or three who doesn’t get pregnant before the age of 20 and who moves out by the age of 30.

    I am weird because I believe every single person can change the world and make history. And I embrace that. Even if it makes a lot of people snicker.

  12. I was a kid with some serious learning issues, so the temptation to fit in always revolved around being an underachiever. That what all the cool kids did. What’s more, it was the direction all my friends gravitated towards even if they were smart.

    Yet for some reason, as an “at-risk” middle school kid in the midst of a situation when I was considered being suspended from school, I learned the power of E+R=O (W. Clement Stone’s event + response = outcome) from a teacher/basketball coach. It woke something up inside of me and I realized for the first time that hard work beats talent every time talent doesn’t work hard. This simple concept changed my life; so much so that any success I experience gets credited to that simple equation and that caring teacher. Both made me “weird” in the best posible way!

    1. Hi Kent. I loved this: “…hard work beats talent every time talent doesn’t work hard…”

      As a musician and writer, this so resonates with me! Thank you!

      Take care and all the best.

      Lyle

      1. Thank Lyle. Just know, that’s not original with me. Not sure who said it first, but I’ve heard Tim Tebow say it pretty regularly. All that to say, I love it too!

  13. Great post as always Jeff. And I love the quote! I’m an author and an advocate for mental health awareness and often come up against people (a lot today) telling me people should hide their mental illness, which to me means they should not stand up against societal stigma. I guess I’m weird for believing that a world where people can be who they are and not suffer in silence for something they did not choose, is much better than one where a treatable illness can kill you because society is too uncomfortable to talk about it and too arrogant to learn about it. Shame kills, silence breeds shame: I’m weird and proud.

  14. This is great, Jeff. What I’ve learned to embrace is that I can’t be FORCED to be my most creative or productive during normal business hours. It got me into trouble in the corporate world as I watched colleagues who simply showed up (even if they were asleep at their desks) climb the corporate ladder. I hated the game.

    I’ve embraced that fact about me in my business and it’s led to success, not failure (as some of my managers had predicted). I am more creative and more productive each day and much of it is outside those 9-5 hours.

  15. this is a great post. I only started following you about 3-4 months ago. I’ve been so impressed in such a short time. Thank you for being you.

  16. Jeff,
    Great post! So, so, so true that fitting in is a waste of time.
    Gonna forward this to my kids.
    Thanks!

    P.S. Another book on the topic is Seth’s “We’re All Weird” (https://amzn.to/1lUIvM2)

  17. Great post Jeff. My desire to restore in many areas that seem unconnected is what makes me weird. I love writing, speaking, owning restaurants (to restore the soul is a definition) and forgiveness farming. Keep up the good work Jeff!

  18. I can’t pretend that I am the perfect Proverbs 31 Christian woman. I sometimes swear, sometimes I have a drink, I’m not always kind and charitable and I’m betting there are times my daughters-in-law rise up and call me something other than “blessed.”

    I spent a lot of my young years trying to fit the role and it’s a poor fit. I’d rather be authentic, I’d rather try to show Jesus’ love through kindness that’s real, and I’ll face Jesus as myself rather than as a fake who showed external “goodness” but resented it inside.

  19. Absolutely fantastic article, again. What you say makes so much sense and some of it is quite eye opening. I keep re-evaluating my goals. Thank you.

  20. Love this line: There will always be those who want to squash your creativity and belittle your uniqueness, but this is not power. It is the pinnacle of weakness and cowardice, and it’s waiting to be exposed.
    Awesome post.

  21. My literary agent left the biz before we submitted my novel to sell. Now, I’m getting lots of rejections (50+ to date). I have to stop feeling like “I’m not good enough” because my voice isn’t like what’s on all the book shelves right now.

  22. The strangest (awkward/nerdy/take your pick) kids make the best adults. The reverse also seems to hold true.

  23. It took me years to understand that “fitting in” is not the same thing as “belonging.” Humans are not wired to be alone; we all need a place to belong. But fitting in requires us to please others. Your post is such a good reminder that in being authentic, we will find that place of belonging. “Because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (The Velveteen Rabbit) You are a gift, Jeff Goins, and an encourager to so many. I thank you for that.

  24. For me it’s the whole online world and the advice that’s out there now. I think there’s a ton of great advice but a lot of it isn’t relevant unless you have a huge platform. I’ve been talking about how to do this when you’re the small guy and I’ve gotten a good response. I just need to embrace that’s who I should be helping and run with it!

  25. The part about bullies hit home for me the most. I was very badly bullied in the seventh and eight grades. I was afraid then. I wouldn’t be now, of course, but I was terribly affected by that whole experience. I was afraid to stand up and face fear then and for so long afterward. The tallest and largest bullies were the ones I generated in my own head long after I had become an adult. I never fought them so they always won by default. I became an alcoholic out of fear. It was the biggest bully of all. I fought that battle twenty four years ago and have been clean and sober since. All the other bullies in my life since then do seem small now and for them I hold no fear. clarkgaither.com

  26. Jeff, what you have to say here is so important that I sent it to my children (21, 17, 15 yrs in age) and told them to read it and expect a follow up from me. Thank you so much for your continued work.

  27. I sure wish that I would’ve realized this when I was younger… in my high school it was all about fitting in, and being like the cool crowd, etc. I was more concerned with those kinds of things than with getting good grades and other more important things. Great message, thanks!

  28. My 14 year-old self began a journey into anorexia as a result of self-imposed perfectionism. The ironic thing is, in the midst of my married-with-children-white-picket-fence “perfect” life, God chose me to be the mother of a special-needs child with both Down syndrome and autism. He fits into neither category. He is judged by the world’s standard as imperfect and unable to fit in “normally”. Yet he has given me a platform, a ministry and I am his voice when he cannot speak. I would tell my 14 year-old self that imperfection is beauty and the unexpected is exquisite. http://www.vickineely.com

  29. Amen brother! And high five for grunge and flannels. I was right there in my Docs too.

    This is something I’ve learned thru the years too. But back in high school? It was all about fitting in and struggling with confidence. I’d tell that girl to embrace her creativity and twisted side right now and others will follow.

    Awesome post, Jeff!

  30. “And there is a peculiar sort of wealth that accompanies struggle and lack, sometimes.” I work with some people who have that peculiar wealth and it humbles me every day. What a gift to be in their presence!

  31. I am learning through this season of struggle and lack that I am wealthier now that I may ever be in the future. In our weakness, God is strong. I have learned the incredible gift to be content in all things. I have learned that God’s grace, really is….enough.

  32. I’m coming into the conversation a bit late, but I want to thank you for re-posting this on Twitter today, Jeff. I needed it. Over the last two months, life has pretty much come crashing down. In fact, one day my mom and I stood in the kitchen, and at nearly the same moment said, “We’ve been wrecked.” It’s a different kind of wreck than what most of your book is about, but just the same the wreckage is pretty severe.
    This reminded me to step back and look at who God made me to be, what quirks He gave me, what experience, what gifts and talents. I’ve been busy trying to hold things together when, in reality, I probably need to start over. I’ve continued writing, and WILL continue to do so…that’s a must. In fact, I’ve started a blog series on my ministry website geared to help others either walk through this valley or walk alongside others in this valley…That in itself may be my new beginning…time will tell. Thank you for bringing perspective.

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  34. I have always been a little quirky. People tell me your weird, your quirky. I don’t share ideas with anyone except a few close people. If you share ideas with most people they will shut you down. It takes a lot of courage to be authentic in this life. I just turned 40 and I am only discovering some inner passions I want to pursue before life passes me by.

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