With a month of living in Paris now behind me, I can definitively say that this city has got a few things figured out. They know good art, they know good pastry, they know good coffee.
It's made fitting in not just fairly easy, but also a pretty great learning experience.
I mean, who would have known that this...
... beats this?
(Mon dieu -- did I really just write that?!)
This being said, fitting in hasn't worked perfectly. There's been a bit of a hiccup in the area of fashion.
I had a feeling this could be an issue back when I was packing up my best clothing options... which included a stack of baggy T-shirts and my beloved green sandals.
When it comes to fashion, Parisians -- especially the women -- have a gift. Each one looks so together... from the easy, flowing hair to the outfits that fall perfectly on the body to the smart accessories, these women exude good taste. And they make it look effortless.
At first I tried to fit into this mold. I bought a cute hat and spent a lot of time trying to create perfectly sculpted fly-aways in my hair.
But then I thought about what it would really take to really fashionably fit in... the costs, the time, the discomfort. And I realized I didn't even want to try.
I realized that there's a difference between trying to fit into a culture and trying to fit into a mold.
We deal with new cultures all the time. Every single group has its own way of interacting and speaking and living. And when we join in on them, we do so with the intent of fitting in:
- We attend dinner at a friend's home and notice how formally or informally people speak to each other... and adapt our discussions accordingly
- We pay attention to the office dress code and its level of professionalism... and adapt our clothing accordingly
- We join a new book club and see how seriously the members take their literature... and adapt our intensity accordingly
Adapting to a culture means doing so in a way that allows us to be who we are, learning from others while also sharing the best of ourselves.
The problem happens when we don't just try to fit into the culture, but we try to fit into a specific mold in a way that is not true to who we are:
- When we sit at that dinner and quote Plato because we think it will impress those around us... even when we can't stand him ourselves
- When we wear designer shoes to the office because our colleagues are doing it... even though our feet are sore the entire day
- When we say that the book of the month didn't meet our standards of good literature because we heard others say it... even though we couldn't put it down until we finished it
When we try to fit into a mold it makes us uncomfortable in our own skin. It leads to experiences filled with worry and comparisons with those around us (where we inevitably come out behind and feel lousy). It makes for a miserable experience for us and a lack of connection with those around us.
Sure, there are ways to learn and adapt and transform into people we want to be based on what we learn from others. But that's different than transforming into people we think we need to be.
The trick, of course, is knowing that we don't need to be anyone other than who we are... that we are at our best when we are comfortable in our own skin while authentically learning and evolving ourselves.
If you don't know this then you have some work to do on yourself... at least if you want to be happy. So do it. Find your own mold. Stick with it and adapt as it best fits you.
Know that you will indeed learn from others along the way.
Know that you might even find that those Parisian hats really are fun...
... but so are those beloved green sandals, which you'll wear with pride.
Think about how you might be trying to fit into a mold instead of fitting into a culture. Think about who you really are. Decide how to stay authentic while learning new things along the way.
Create your own mold. And know it fits you better than any other mold around.