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Yesterday, I changed my coat for the third time (yeah, because, you know, Pittsburgh winter weather) and found this bumper sticker in the pocket. At first, I thought it said "Bean Outsider." I do like my beans, but what!?! Then I quickly realized my mistake. "Be an Outsider." Hmmm. I have no memory of where this bumper sticker came, but I re-found it at just the right time. One meaning of the words supports a passion of mine - being outside in the woods, around water, in the sun or under clouds. Biking, hiking, walking. These moments feel timeless and feed my soul. The experiences also reinforce my commitment to environmental conservation and protection. I have seen destroyed mountains, bays, and rivers, and the impacts of this damage on not only plant and animal life but also on the people living nearby. They suffer - emotionally, physically, socially and economically. So when I am outside, I feel enormous gratitude for what is before me and a bit of what I call anticipatory grief for what could be lost. Be an Outsider. This has another meaning for me, particularly in this time of transition to a new stage in life - kinda sorta retirement but not really?!? When I enter something new and and not yet known, one of the first places my mind goes to is - how are others doing this? am I doing it right, like them? what if I do it wrong? Some of these questions are helpful - after all, why reinvent the wheel when others can provide guidance and support?

But sometimes the questions can keep me stuck. There are an infinite number of comparison points, other people who have walked the path I am setting out on, and each has done it slightly differently. Of course they have. We know this, and yet we often persist in comparisons - and I am sure you know what happens when you go down a rabbit hole of constant comparison of yourself with other people. It is not a happy or productive trip and can keep us stuck and doubtful. If you know me, you know that I work to build community, to unite people even when, or especially when, they represent diverse perspectives. I think the world is a healthier place when we do this. And as individuals - there is so much research that documents the importance of social relationships for overall health and longevity. And yet, there are times when I have found it helpful, even necessary, to step outside a group or community, to be an outsider if only for a brief time. Stepping outside and away gives me an opportunity to go more deeply into what I believe and think and want, what is most important to me, what my non-negotiable priorities for life are. Being an outsider can also put me temporarily beyond the toxic static of "us-them" that is currently pervading our culture. Even being outside of a beloved group allows me to reassess my commitment and to re-join with joy. Counseling and psychology students - mental health professionals in training - often talk about working in groups or organizations where they really really want to be respected and accepted. While yearning to learn from and be part of the professional group, however, they are also witnessing burn-out and cynicism among those whose respect they are seeking. And they become confused by the conflicting feelings of temptation to "join" in the negative talk about the work and patients in order to become an accepted insider, and a deep desire to do their work with integrity and hope. Clients making big changes in their lives in work or relationships also describe doubts about trusting their own thoughts and voices when confronted by others who have done things differently. Being an insider, yearning for acceptance (even if that is only related to your own sense that you are doing it as you "should") is a strong pull, yet it is not always the right way to go. Giving yourself a chance to be an outsider can be a liberating experience. Most big personal and social changes have arisen from people spending some time as an outsider. Have you ever chosen to be an outsider? What has that been like for you? What have you learned? Have there been challenges as well as benefits? We can learn from one another. PS - Don't forget the pleasures and joys that can come with being outside in the nature kind of way, even on cold days like today. And PPS - We have (or more accurately, Larry has) scraped ice off the cars, the sun is shining, and who knows what weather is ahead? I have no doubt that another coat change is in my near future and I can't wait to see what treasure I find in my pocket!

And PPPS - I heard from many that the bumper sticker was from LL Bean. Well duh. How did I miss that!

©2018 by Mary Beth Mannarino, Ph.D.