08/29/2012 09:11 am ET | Updated Oct 29, 2012

Don't Try to Fit In... Fit Out!

The end of August is nearing. You know what that means: back-to-school time for kids (and some adults) everywhere. Whether you're a student, teacher, or a professional who didn't get the summer off, this is still a good time of year to reflect on ways that we give away our power by trying to "fit in."

Although I'd love to tell you that peer pressure goes away once we enter adulthood, I'd be lying if I did. No, sadly, the pressure to fit in does not seem to lessen once you turn 18 or 21 -- or 45, for that matter. The subject matter just seems to change somewhat. Instead of being pressured to try our first cigarette, now we're being pressured to stop smoking. Instead of being pressured to be rebellious, we're pressured to be good "organizational citizens," or to just be good citizens in general, and do things like vote. Then, for younger adults, there's the never-ending pressure to get married and have kids. Surprisingly, we're still being pressured to drink. And to behave according to societally prescribed gender roles. And to be thin.

Regardless of what type of pressure you are facing, I encourage you to rethink how you are dealing with it. What if, instead of trying to fit in, you decided to fit out? That's right, I said "fit out." What does that mean, you ask. Picture this. It's Friday night, 5:30 p.m. You're leaving work. Your coworkers are headed to the same bar they go to every Friday night after work. They ask you to go with them. You don't really want to, but feel like you have to. Part of that "organizational citizenship" thing. So once again, you're faced with a decision: Go to the bar and be miserable, or say no and face the standard ribbing. ("Come on, it's just a drink....")

Stop. Think. What do you really want to do here?

Do that. And be okay with it.

Fitting out is not about being rebellious and purposefully trying to get a charge out of people like you did when you were a teenager. Fitting out is about being okay with following your heart, with being who you are. So instead of wasting your energy trying to be someone you're not, focus your energy on being authentic, on being true to yourself.

Now let's take that one step farther. Think about something bigger in your life -- something that you've been holding on to that no longer serves you. Maybe you want to quit your job but are afraid of not having that financial security. Or you want to leave a lover but are afraid of being alone. Or you want to cut ties with a friend who is bringing you down, but don't want to feel guilty for "abandoning" them.

I challenge you to let go of the need to fit in. Instead, ask yourself, "What is it that I am really here to do? What do I want to accomplish in this lifetime?" Once you answer that question, it's time for the hard one: "What's been holding me back?" Be honest with yourself here; you might be surprised at what you find. Now, "What might life be like if I did that thing-I-always-wanted-to-do-but-was-too-afraid-to-actually-attempt?" It's rather freeing to think about, isn't it?

You ready to start now? Okay. Get ready... go. Go do that thing-you-always-wanted-to-do, or at least make headway in that direction. Don't let people discourage you from following your dreams. That includes you. After all, you only have one life to live. You might as well live it to the fullest.

For more by Mary Pritchard, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.