Belonging to a friend group doesn’t come naturally to every kid growing up. Those who don’t find their niche in grade school often discover it in high school or college. However, many don’t and continue drifting through life without that sense of belonging.

As for me, I still have some of my childhood friends around, but I see them sporadically and often not at the same time. They’re also all older than I am and have close friends of their own.

In elementary school, I had friends from my grade, but I didn’t hang out with them outside those confines. Instead, after school I’d walk two minutes in either direction from my house to one of my two best friends’ doorstep. One of whom I don’t even speak to anymore, for no particularly good reason.

Not being in a group of friends my age was something I had always been conscious and insecure of. I was almost jealous of others who did belong to a group. I would think: What didn’t I do to belong?

Sometimes, I think it’s because I lived so close to my childhood friends. But then again, I also lived close to kids in my grade. I even hung out with them a few times.

In high school, it was no different. Though, I did spend a generous bit of my time after school with kids my age who I had known for a while. But I wasn’t kidding anyone. We may have been friends, but I wasn’t really a part of their group.

Now, I don’t talk to those kids, and nothing’s changed. Nothing except that I’ve far given up on these precious groups as they can do more harm than good anyway.

Still, I’m this ostracized thing, almost intentionally nowadays. Here, I’m surrounded by people barely younger than I am or my age. Our age may be in striking distance, but our behavior isn’t.

I’ve outgrown the mentality and habits most of my peers currently possess. Sadly, I couldn’t be less interested in their company or conversation. But still, everyone needs some form of actual human interaction. It’s just the lowest quality of interaction being offered by them.

I’m trapped, but at least I’m happy. Though, if it weren’t for my girlfriend and best friend, that wouldn’t be the case.

While there are surely hundreds of students who haven’t found themselves in this bind, there must be some. If you’re one of them, it’s imperative that you don’t register this as a sign that something is wrong with you. Keep being yourself and eventually the right people will find their way into your life. But, if you conform into something else, something you think you’re supposed to be, then you’ll never be truly happy with who you are.

A sense of belonging to a group or family is valuable, but it shouldn’t require sacrificing other precious components of your life. Too often I’ve watched students trade their education for short-lived friendships and their class time for gluttonous binges of substance abuse. Weeknight and weekend shenanigans are held in higher regard than academic achievement.

More important than fitting in is your general well-being. No influence is stronger than the people you surround yourself with daily. If the people you associate with are taking away from your livelihood, then try spending more time with yourself. Detaching yourself isn’t easy. But outgrowing old habits is necessary.

You don’t want to be the same person you were five years ago. Maturity comes with time and experience. Growing up doesn’t mean not having fun anymore. It means learning and bettering yourself with each passing day.

Email Steve Levy at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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