I went to a gathering of outsiders last week. Ok, technically it was a writers conference. But it was essentially a place for misfits and melodramatics to meet and learn and muse.
It was a great conference. I made new friends and caught up with old ones. We sang songs to God together. We prayed for one another. We wandered through the indulgent bookstore and collected piles of beautiful books to purchase.
There were insightful and inspirational workshops we attended. One talk in particular grabbed my attention, a talk on outside voices. The speaker shared with us five different types of writers, one of which was the outsider. It was this outsider that arrested my thoughts.
The outsider does not fit in. The outsider is not popular. The outsider as a child is not included in games and not invited to parties. The outsider as an adult is not ‘in’; instead, they perpetually feel on the outside looking in.
The outsider is not ‘in’.
It would be easy to pity the outsider.
But the outsider is actually in a rare and privileged position. They have a unique perspective gleaned from their outsiderness. They are able to look in, to notice, to observe. They see things that the ‘in’ people cannot possibly see.
The outsider brings beauty to our world. They bring challenge and confrontation. They say those hard things that need to be said. They are not to be pitied. Rather, the outsider is exactly where they need to be.
The outsider is exactly where they need to be.
Many of us at the conference resonated with the idea of the outsider. I know I did.
I was never popular growing up. I was always hanging on to the fringes of friendship groups at school. I was not pretty, I was not coordinated, I was not super-intelligent. I could not play sport or dance or do any of the things that made the other girls popular.
Because I was on the fringes, I kept to myself a lot. I was always alone, writing in my journal, writing short stories, immersing myself in music, reading, praying, studying. I remember being told by others not to be such an outsider.
“Don’t be so serious all the time,” friends chastised me. “Stop overanalysing things. Stop thinking so hard. Why can’t you just relax?”
It wasn’t just my friends. My parents were concerned about me as well.
“You need to get out more,” they advised, hovering near my room where I was absorbed in my books. “It’s not good for you to be at home so much. You should be going out and making friends.”
But I was not meant to be at parties. I was not meant to be hanging out with friends during those formative years. I was not meant to be ‘just relaxing’.
God knew where I needed to be.
I needed to be in my room, writing, reading, singing to him. I needed to be cultivating my love of books, expressing myself through words, exploring social issues in writing. I needed to be conducting my first experiments in songwriting.
I don’t deserve pity for those lonely years. God was doing something in me during that time, moulding me, shaping my gifts, drawing out my love of writing and music. Being outside has made me who I am.
Being outside has made me who I am.
If you have ever felt like an outsider, you are in good company. If you feel as though you are on the outside looking in, you may be exactly where you are meant to be.
Maybe God has put you on the outside so you can do something no-one else can do.
Do you feel like an outsider? Has this outside position given you a unique point of view? What passions, gifts and words could you use to express your outside voice? Share your story – let’s have a countercultural conversation.