By Libby Mueller, muelleea@miamioh.edu

Find your niche. That’s what a lot of people tell you before you enter college and again when you get there. So you spin yourself in circles trying to figure it all out.

What they mean is: find the group, organization or community where you fit and where you feel as if you belong. 

Find the people with whom you identify, and become part of them.

I don’t disagree with this advice. In fact, I think it is incredibly important to have your “people.” Life doesn’t mean much, and isn’t nearly as much fun, without them.

But I’ve found that finding my niche is a little more problematic than it seems to be for most people.

All throughout my life, I’ve been in clubs and organizations, plays, choirs, orchestras and teams from just about any sport you can name. Some I liked more than others, and some I committed to more than others; but one thing remained the same, and I thought there must be something wrong with me.

There must be, because I couldn’t ever quite access the collective passion cherished by the people who formed those clubs and teams.

I liked spiking a volleyball, for instance, and I enjoyed team wins, but I didn’t have that communal hunger for victory, that drive, that intense bond shared by people who share a purpose.

In short, I never belonged.

And I hated that. I wanted so badly to belong to something.

I wanted to identify with something the way others did, a sport or activity or interest that united many into one.

I wanted to feel accepted, one of the group, rather than a mildly curious outsider who happened to participate but was clearly not one of “us.”

It took me until the end of my junior year of college to realize that, in fact, I didn’t really need to belong.

It was okay not to belong. It was fine to see the merit of many working for one purpose, but to more deeply love the things done in solitude: the way characters come alive when you open a book, the click of the keys as you string sentences together in an essay or story, testing them on your tongue to taste their melody, the satisfaction of creating something from yarn or wood or other such materials and the raw feeling of power in your legs on a long run.

Or what about the feeling of accomplishment when you complete something you’ve been working on or comprehend something that previously eluded you?

Find your people. That, I truly believe, is still imperative. Without them, life is lonely and disconcerting and difficult. And if you are one who can, then find your niche.

But if you, like me, are an eccentric, a wanderer, an independent, then find your passions instead. Find what you love to do and do it, and don’t worry if there’s no organized outlet for it, no community or club.

It’s okay to not belong. It’s okay to say you’re you and not have any other qualifier for that, such as, “I’m a hockey player” or “I’m part of so-and-so organization.”

It’s perfectly okay to not have a niche.

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