If you’re going to chart a markedly different course in life than those around you, it helps to have achieved a general degree of comfort with being different.

Thankfully, that’s something I’ve had ample experience with. From having to forge my own path through a stifling public school system and subsequently mend my relationship with formal education, to getting used to having geekier interests than many of my peers, to learning that I also diverge from those around me politically, I’ve grown plenty accustomed to going my own way.

Experiencing this in various iterations forces you to get comfortable in your own skin. You learn to trust your own carefully considered judgment, despite the implication that you may deviate uncomfortably from those around you. You trust your reasoning because you’ve been forced to think things through instead of being able to assume a default course of action. Through it all, you establish a solid self-reliance that comes in especially handy when having to perform a self-recovery.

I don’t know that there’s any simple shortcut to this level of self-assuredness. It may be something that has to be won through experience: Living enough years to notice that some aspects of who you are are constant. Weathering enough trials that you come to see that the essence of who you are is not so easily undone, and to begin to see and appreciate your differences as strengths. But if there’s one thing I wish I could assure my former self of, it’s this: It gets better. You will find in yourself a solid foundation, and every trial and challenge that you face now you will one day see as a gift in disguise.

Some of the difficulties I faced in the past with being different could perhaps have been avoided. Maybe given a different school environment, for example, I’d have been spared a few years of seemingly unnecessary wandering. But life is such a long chain of causes and effects, it’s hard to be at all sure where you’d end up after tweaking some detail or other of your past. In light of where my feet have landed, I find myself strongly tempted to say that I wouldn’t change a thing. Simply doing the same as others, even if that had been possible, wouldn’t have put me where I am. From where I now stand, with the great possibilities I see in my possession because of what I’ve been through to get here, I’m nothing but grateful for having taken a road less traveled.

The series continues, at The Way Out