This line in I, Tonya so perfectly describes for me the frustration of being judged by your ability to fit in, rather than your ability to do the work.

In the scene, Tonya is frustrated at being blocked for success in the skating competitions. She confronts the judge and he confirms it: she is being marked low; not because of her skill, work, or talent, but because she doesn’t ‘look’ or ‘act’ a certain way.

“Tonya, it’s never been entirely about the skating… you just refuse to play along.”

Play along. Be normal. Fit in.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how good you are: you don’t fit. You. So, you’ve gone as far as you can go in this company, this group, this situation. No matter how good your work is. Because you don’t say what they want to hear, you don’t smile, you don’t play along or make things easy. You don’t lie. And it sucks. Office politics, social games, all of the weird-peopley-stuff on the edges – the things that should be icing but for some reason (society, time, habit) seem to be cake. Why can’t it just be about the skating? If you are the best at what you do, if you are fast and smart and good, that should be it.

Now, I figure this is maybe my black-and-white thinking (yeah, “maybe” hehe) but, seriously, what does it matter what Tonya wears if she can land a triple axle? (Yes, I can hear myself. I know it matters because it just does. Because it’s the way it’s always been. Because image and tradition and and. Because people. And I’m supposed to accept it.  You can ace the work, nail the interview, be the best … but the people stuff matters. Because people make decisions based on emotion, not logic. Suddenly, you’re left out of things – the conversations, the invitations, the projects, the promotions – because you don’t play the game.

Of course, all of this suckiness is only until you realise that not fitting in is a gift.

Because what if it’s not you that’s wrong? What if this is just a signpost directing you to the right? Helping you to find where you belong? Right you, wrong place.

Doing it the hard way

I’ve fought hard to fit in places that didn’t fit me. I thought if I worked hard enough, if I changed, if I figured out the ways that I was broken and fixed myself; I would fit. I’ve wondered: if I was more qualified, more experienced, if I could prove my worth more fully – would it make a difference? (The answer is no – because it doesn’t matter if your work is brilliant if no one sees it.) I still want to be good at what I do, I still care about being accurate, truthful, and ethical – but now I know that my standards have to come from me and be for me. People often prefer likeable over competent, fun or easy over right – and that’s okay. Those just aren’t my people.

What I learned

All my experiences feeling wrong have made it soooo easy to know when something is right. And I don’t want that to be the way for my kids. I don’t want that to be the way for anyone. If I could go back? I would look more quickly for the signs that I don’t fit, and be grateful. I wouldn’t waste time or energy trying to squeeze myself into the wrong box – I’d create my own world – the one where I get to be me, do good work with good people who get me. It’s possible, believe it!

Here’s the advice:

  1. If you can possibly help it, follow the happy feelings. Know that the places and people that are right for you will feel good.
  2. If it feels wrong, trust yourself. Look for alternatives, plot your escape. Keep looking.
  3. Figure out your strengths. What do you love, what are you good at, what lights you up? That’s where you belong.
  4. Work on your grey thinking: remember it’s not all or nothing. You can keep your day job (for now!) and write your screenplay at night. You can get through a day in class to get to your after school project. You can create your dream world bit by bit.

Our children are the miracle and we need to reshape the world for them. Meanwhile, I’m working to keep my awesomeness where it’s appreciated. I’ll stay with places and people that celebrate my strengths and build on my positives – and I’ll do the same for them. You can spend your whole life trying to fight your weaknesses, trying to convince people who don’t get it, or you can spend your energy making magic with the one (or three, or six million :)) who do.

I, Tonya is a movie that explores the nature of truth; it’s hilarious, gutting, and beautifully done. But the skating? That’s what should matter. In competitions. In life. What you do, not how you look. Who you are, not if you fit.

(Spoiler alert: You fit. You belong here, exactly as you are :))