The Hidden Power of NOT (Always) Fitting In: Marianne Cantwell (Transcript)

That pull inside that was saying, “Oh, there has to be another way, other than to squish myself into this one-dimensional one-track version of me.” It’s not wrong. We are simply not given a model for the world that lets that way of being thrive.

And to be clear not only is this way of being a “thing”, there’s a word for it: liminal. This is my favorite word, and it describes a state of in-between-ness. Like you are note quite one thing but not quite another. You are on the borderlines. A part of this, but also a part of that of becoming.

And when I first heard this word, I just thought: “Wow, that describes me.” And not just the big life stuff but say, right now on my bookshelf, the Sex and the City novel is cuddling up to a behavioral economics textbook and I love it both of them equally, right? There is actually a word for this.

A great example of liminality would be vampires. They are not quite alive but they are not quite dead. They are not quite human but not quite other. They are not fully evil but they are not all good. They are in-between worlds. It’s like they don’t fit into anyone’s space.

But why would I mention that here? Well, because it’s no mistake that over the past few decades, vampires and zombies have been the topic of some of the cult TV series with the biggest and most dedicated fan bases.

You see, we watch what we desire to be but aren’t allowed to be. And the one thing our society does not allow us to be is liminal. And in a world full of black and white messages, like you are in or out, with us or against us, this or that, then this has a big pull and heads up, now I said it, you will see it everywhere.

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I mean, so many popular dramas do the same like Breaking Bad‘. It’s a runaway hit that revolves around the question: Is the main character a family man or something else? Or both? That show is literally about liminality.

You see, we watch this stuff whenever we turn on our TVs or load up on Netflix. But then we go back to real life, where we squish ourselves down. Be one thing. Fit in your box. And millions of us are doing this. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You see, here’s a different model. The way we are told the world works is kind of like a bunch of continents.

Now, these continents could be different industries or identities. So, if this was careers, it could be here is continent lawyer. Here is continent small business arena. Here is continent cupcake baker or something. And your role, we are told, is to find the continent where you really fit. You know, get the visa, learn the customs, rise the ranks by being the one who fits best. But that’s a losing game if you’re liminal, because you don’t quite feel like you fit.

So your only option other than to pretend is to look for a continent where you fit better. But even though the other world might seem exciting at first, soon you get disappointed, right? Like it wasn’t quite as you as you thought. Like you have to leave another bit of yourself behind. And so the cycle continues.

But what is the alternative? Well, it’s to create your own island — an island where every bit of you fits. And you create this island just off the shore of your favorite continent. And it takes the best of that world and fills out the rest with the best of the other worlds you have a foot in. So these could be bits of your personality, background or something you can’t help being.

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So, let me just give you an example. Consider an island where you do business strategy for people who run their own thing. Now the continent approach will be to look for others who do this and tell yourself, “There should be more like them!” Maybe Facebook stalk them or something.

Here you get to create your own version. So your island could be populated by the fact that you are a highly sensitive person, in a field that is traditionally more brash, could have some of the storytelling you can’t help do, a sprinkle of your travel lust, a light dusting of being a straight talker and so on.

By the way, that’s a fair description of one of my islands. And I couldn’t have found that job description anywhere, right? I did look.

And that’s the bottom line. You don’t find your place as a liminal person. You create it.

So, as I said that, I realized, this could sound like, “Isn’t this a compromise?” Like a workaround to deal with your weirdness? Wouldn’t it be better to not be like this in the first place?

Well, when you take the things that means to be liminal, like having a foot in more than one place and bridging worlds, slightly a different personality to others around you, maybe not focusing on one idea forever for the exclusion of anything else.

When you take those things and apply them to yourself we can feel shame. Like we are getting it wrong. Being weird. Not doing the grown-up thing right.

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