08/11/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

Needing to Belong and the Joy of Being Different

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When I look back at my life, I realize that everything that I have experienced is a gift. And it is by no way a charmed life you may imagine. By the age of 20, I had lived in three countries and I can't even tell you how many different cities. It was hard to always be the new kid and I longed to belong and not to constantly start over, especially at what was considered critical ages.

The toughest one was when I was 16. My family moved when I was 14 and I had just bounced back from that move when boom, we were leaving again. I created a life where I felt I belonged and had a great community. It happened again. I had to press reboot, once again. Pack my stuff, say goodbye to my new friends, my theatre community and get on an airplane to brand new place and start over.

Change was not something I could ever resist. It was simply a way of life. The cycle was consistent: you build a new network, you got comfortable and then all of a sudden your world got turned upside down and you started over. It's like the instructions on the shampoo bottle: Lather, rinse, repeat.

Where did you grow up?

I always wondered what it would be like to know the house you were born in, with the places you played in and the people who have known you all your life. It's not anything that I will ever experience. I was born in a foreign country that is with me forever, but I have no memory of it since my family left when I was 3 years old. I also have no connection to this country apart from when people ask me where I was born. And the strange looks I get when I tell them. I don't even know the name of the hospital where I was born, let alone how to pronounce it. I am sure there are thousands of people like me who were born in a country where their parent(s) were stationed for their job.

When people try to put me into one of their boxes, the conversation usually goes like this:
Them: "So where are you from?"
Me: "It's complicated. I have an affiliation with three countries."
Them: "So, where did you grow up?"
Me: "I never grew up. It's overrated."
Them : "Ok, so where were you born?"
Me: "It has nothing to do with where I am from. It's not a country I am affiliated with." [It's actually a fourth country I was told I lived in for the first three years of my life. They show me photos as proof that I was there].

And then when I tell them the country and that my father was stationed in Iran and I just happened to be born there, their jaw usually drops or they shake their head in disbelief. I have been accused of being a spy. I have found that while some people are intrigued, it makes others feel uncomfortable as it is too foreign for them to relate to. As I said, I am used to it: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.


In the cookie cutter world we live in, being different was tough when I was younger. I had this strong desire to belong and be just like everyone else. And it was a fantasy since I was always the outlier on the edge. I didn't have the roots in the local community and a big local family that connected me to wherever I found myself. Until recently, it felt like a disadvantage and a challenge that drove me to a constant yearning to belong.

The joy of being different

Ever since I fired myself from my corporate job a few years ago, I have been re-inventing myself both personally and professionally. I realized that staying with one large company for 13+ years stemmed from that yearning of belonging and the rush you felt at company meetings when the executives came on the stage and everyone around you cheered like crazy. And that ease you had when you went to events and people warmed up to you because they heard what you did at a prestigious company. You had instant credibility even though all they knew was your title and company name. You were in. You belonged. You didn't need to explain your different history.

But one day I woke up and realized that I loved being different and not conforming to what was expected of me. I saw that I was living a lie and was numbing myself with international travel, being a foodie and being so busy. Some people told me I was crazy to leave, while others thought I was brave to leave the lifestyle I created for myself and wish they could do it themselves.

Not waiting to be picked. Picking ourselves

Being different made me who I am today. A woman who lives fully every second of her life. I see failure as not trying. And every time life knocks me down, I shake off the hurt and focus on the learning and the growth. Yes, I allow myself to truly feel and now I am working on changing my language and seeing the opportunities more often than the challenges. That's what being human is all about. They don't teach us that at school.

The biggest prisons we have today are not institutions... they are ourselves. Imagine, who you could be if you let down the walls. I know too many people who believe they are stuck and cannot leave their prisons. They make up excuses of not letting others down when they are simply letting themselves down. And they choose to stay in a bad situation than live a full life. It's ok to admit that something you thought would work for you your entire life is broken and you have the tools to change your course. And yet, too many people prefer to stay and suffer.

What if you were vulnerable? What would happen? I asked myself the same question and found the other side to be gratifying. And yes, being different is a gift. It allows me to try and live and not be stuck in a box of rules and expectations that no longer serve me.

What about you? I see too many people around me who are living in pain and a false belief "this is as good as it gets." And that's ok if you have come to terms with it. But what if it could be better only in a way you know if you can let go of judgement and being judged? I am on the other side and can tell you, it's not easy but I would do it all the same way over again. Why? Because I live in a world of abundance of possibilities and opportunities where I pick myself up when I trip and start over. My biggest teacher is nature.