Feeling like a fish out of water, did you say? I’m sure many of us can identify with that. Perhaps something we’ve all encountered at different times in our lives. I’ve been there too. Actually, I’ve been there so many times, that, frankly, I’ve lost count of it. For so many different reasons, sometimes because I felt I was different from others, sometimes because I wanted something that others thought was trivial or strange, sometimes because of choosing to do something for myself, and not going with other people’s notions of what I should do.
Sometimes, it was because of something that seems really trivial today, but wasn’t so at the time. Like, being the quietest one in the midst of a boisterous group of girls always made me feel like a fish out of water. Always. In college, it could sometimes be my preferences for certain kind of films or music or my streak of individualism that, for all my rebellious youth, made me question things a lot of the time, for choosing role models who broke taboo and sometimes, funny though it may seem now, even for listening to long hours of western classical music without being done to death. Yes, sounds strange, I know! In later years, my decision to not follow rituals after marriage, or question why women had to ‘show’ signs of being married on their person when men never had to do any such thing, not believing in fasting on religious occasions, even deciding to keep my maiden name, after marriage, all of these made me feel like a fish out of water. Not that it deterred me in any way, but the feeling was there, constantly. Or the time when we had just moved to Mauritius and I was shocked to discover that I was unlikely to fit in with the expat wives from the Indian community who wanted me to be a part of their potluck parties, something that I’d never really be comfortable with!
Or, even perhaps the time when I decided to get back to higher education in my third year of marriage and people thought something was wrong with me. Every opportunity was used to drive home the point that I had to think of starting a family because back then, that’s what was considered normal. It was the mid-90s and most people of my age were doing exactly that. My friends, my cousins, and everyone I knew were busy procreating and here I was, keen to travel the world, explore new vistas and get back to business school. Of course, I did exactly what I wanted to do. Went ahead and applied for a place at a business school in the UK, and moved out of the country. But, I knew for a fact, that people spoke behind my back and I knew from a few trusted friends I’d left behind, that this was not accepted by many of the so-called well-wishers of the family.
Life lessons brought along confidence but not without a fair share of pain too. It wasn’t easy being different. Blessed with a tiny group of like-minded friends I could relate to, I’ve learnt over time, that it is better to part ways with people and principles one does not believe in, and instead of buckling under mental and emotional pressure, it makes sense to hold one’s ground, especially while going against the tide. Never an easy thing to do, but extremely crucial to one’s self-worth. Because I’d rather be a fish out of water than a clone! Something, that has stayed with me ever since.
So how do people respond when they feel like a fish out of water? Either they succumb to pressure and give in or do something different, learn from one’s predicament and move on. That’s perhaps the only way to accepting growth and self-improvement. Every time we do that, we stay true to our beliefs and nourish ourselves to become the kind of person we wish to be.
But that’s not all. There’s one more thing that I learnt from being a fish out of water and it is this— We must stop blaming others for how they make us feel in such situations. It is inconsequential because when we cease to give value to them, they do not matter to us anymore. Because, in the end, we always have the choice either to accept what others think of us or do what we think is right.
Even today, when I have situations that make me feel like a fish out of water, I remind myself that these are opportunities that are actually helping me push myself out of complacency and comfort, and that these very things will allow me to find myself in a place where I rightly belong.
It is during these moments that I gain a lot of strength knowing that I’m on my chosen path, never mind if I’m treading alone, because that is where I choose to be:
“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”
― Ming-Dao Deng,