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Being an Outsider

Being an Outsider

The world is full of outsiders: students at university far from home, immigrants to a new country. Many American workers became outsiders when they quit their jobs in the Great Resignation.

But because it was voluntary doesn't make it easy. Being an outsider can be lonely and difficult. Yet, there is little evidence that being an outsider creates long-term problems for happiness or lowers your chance of success. When people are thrust between places and cultures, they tend to develop strength, flexibility, and resiliency.


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Difficulties outsiders face

Difficulties outsiders face

Many older theories of philosophy and psychiatry would predict difficult outcomes for outsiders and would recommend against being one if possible.

Plato believed that acculturation, which is the psychological change that takes place when a person blends into an unfamiliar culture, was damaging to one's sense of self. This reasoning was continued by psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Erik Erikson, and Carl Rogers.

Outsiders often face particular hardships, like distrust by insiders. People at the margins of society often bear the brunt of hostility.


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Outsiders do very well

Outsiders may suffer somewhat in the short term, but evidence shows that in the long run, being an outsider may be one of the best investments you will ever make, and you should embrace it, pain and all.

  • A 2018 study showed that outsiders grow to be happier and more resilient than their peers and are less prone to age-related cognitive decline.
  • A 2012 review found being raised in at least two cultures leads to greater psychological and emotional well-being and higher social competence.
  • Outsiders further develop a superpower; they develop multiple cultural identities that they can use flexibly,


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How to incorporate an outside ethos

How to incorporate an outside ethos

  • Being an outsider is a feature, not a bug. When you are new in a group, you might view your unfamiliarity as a cost of doing business, but it is making you stronger and more resilient.
  • Find regular ways to be an outsider. Find opportunities to be on the margins; go to a new church, club or gym where you don't know anyone.
  • Make new friends with outsiders. It's a way to practice creating your own culture. Even if you aren't an outsider, you can learn these skills by joining those who are.


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