What If You Don't Fit The Mold?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dogs are dogs. Cats are cats. Monkeys are monkeys. Nurses are nurses. Engineers are engineers. Children are children. Right?

Exceptions to the Rule. Well, maybe. My family's experienced some exceptions. We've had dogs who think they are people in fur suits, at least by their behavior, and cats who lick the noses of our dogs, with some degree of affection. But, let's look at people.

Angela, a 39 year old registered nurse, is beside herself because "I just can't seem to make myself enjoy what I do anymore. My friend says: Don't make waves. Just be happy you've got a paycheck. Somehow, it's not enough anymore, and I don't know why." Meanwhile, Hank feels like he's droning along as an engineer, a position he's held for 18 years, but reports: "I don't know why, but I can't seem to get in the groove. My work is O.K., I suppose, but, try as I might, something feels 'off.'" Then there's Sarah Ruth, a precocious 8 year old, who confides: "I invite everyone to my birthdays, but on the playground I get ditched. What's wrong with me?"

Sarah's question is a good one for those who struggle to 'fit the mold,' yet end up feeling 'on the short end of the stick.' Try as we might to force our square 'peg-ness' into a round hole, the perfect 'hand in glove' experience might elude us. Such is a set-up for frustration and self-doubt. Let's look at what a HP reader wrote me last week:

" ...Your topic of how to get into the flow again is really important for me. I've
spent no amount of small effort trying to 'get with the program,' with my
colleagues, but just feel stuck, like I'm not a good fit for either my profession
or the atmosphere. Probably both. But what do I do? I've spent money and
years becoming a nurse, and just end up feeling stunted. I know my profession
is important, but I feel there's something more for me, but what?
I can't see the forest from the trees!" Angela

Our reader, Angela, like Hank and Sarah Ruth just may be torturing themselves with the wrong question. No big surprise, especially when you're female, for research bears out that the feminine species tends to assume self-blame when something goes awry. Hank, and many males, however, are not unfamiliar with boarding this bandwagon. Unfortunately, we tend to look at others, in the majority, for our evaluation. Called an 'external locus of control,' by psychologists, this outer yardstick can be a cruel way to measure what's right for us.

The Good News. In medicine, we are taught that the body has embedded within it a 'self-regulating tendency,' which, when harm comes, automatically swings into gear to bring about a return to homeostasis, repair and growth. According to the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who's famous Red Book comes to bookstores this week, our psyche, also contains a 'self-regulating tendency.' By psyche, we mean 'soul.' Developing an Internal Locus of Control. Consequently, whenever you find yourself in similar shoes as the aforementioned three, consider remembering that something profound may be underway. Your failed attempt to 'fit the mold,' might be indicative of the deepest part of your hidden life pushing for new growth, and expression. Trust it. Outside the box is where new life is waiting. Remember the old injunction: "Don't put new wine in an old wineskin"? Here's a few questions to consider for any needed course correction:

1. Where are you feeling itchy, or, like Sarah Ruth, the 'odd one out'? Sarah Ruth discovered that instead of playing jump-rope with the 'catty girls,' she'd prefer to talk to the librarian about books that have to do with making a doll. "The other girls think I'm stuck-up 'cuz I like the teachers, and I like school. I like to learn, and they think there's something wrong with me. They hate school."

She's asked her grandma for a doll-making book for her birthday next week,
And her grandmother promised to not only get one, but to sew a doll with her.
When Sarah Ruth told me this, she got up and literally skipped around
my consulting room.

2. If you could let go of the experience where you feel 'the wrong fit', and were free, and supported, to place yourself in an atmosphere that energized, and renewed you, what might it be?

Angie told me, nearly in a whisper on the phone, that she'd always wanted to sculpt, but her folks insisted 'you'll never make money at that.' (They are both attorneys.) When I asked her why she would give authority over her heart to others, she seemed surprised. "Well, maybe they're right." "What if," I asked her, "you gave yourself permission to sculpt when you aren't at work?" Angela reported to me this morning that she finished her second class last night and absolutely loves it. "I feel like I'm more like the students in my class than my nurses." What will this mean to her life story? Who knows, except she feels, as she put it, "more spring in my step." I can understand. I left bedside nursing eons ago because something else was Calling me, although its taken decades to refine my understanding of what it really is. We can neither walking in anyone else's moccasins nor clinic shoes!

3. Take an action step. None are too small. Hank's enrolled in a river-rafting
weekend, because he recalled that as a child, when he felt stuck or alone, going to the river used to help him feel at home with himself again. That's the ticket. What's waiting for you may seem strange, unexpected, and perhaps another species from who you've been. Give it a whirl. Happiness just might be on the other side of a too-restrictive a mold! Come out to play, my friend.