Where does “Outsider, 2009-2013” go on a resume?

Living on the margins is not something you put on a resume.

Most of the time it’s not considered an asset in any area of life. The only upside (“s/he knows a lot about life”) often ends up being a backhanded compliment, or an expression of pity.

The truth is that being an outsider is terribly lonely, even if you are good at switching between people and environments.

For example, one thing that gives me credibility in a workplace (a fascination with quick translation, and assessing complex ideas/tasks) makes for a difficult experience socially. I can talk all day about work and be fine, but I’m way too intense and think-y to feel comfortable in most social situations. Of course I’m fairly good at blending in, but that’s different from actually feeling like you belong somewhere.

Over time I’ve learned to embrace being strange, but there’s still plenty of friction. I went on a date a couple of months ago and the woman I had a beer with labeled me a “formal hippie” (whatever that is), and said I was too serious and a snob because I’d mentioned that I wanted to spend my time with people who were passionate about something in their lives.

But as any teenager who’s been uplifted by the power of rock & roll knows, there is great power in not fitting in, too.

I’ve lived on the margins in a variety of ways. I like exercise and even got far into long distance running but I’m by no means an athlete (not coordinated enough). I love the weird, the arcane, never walking the same ground twice, but I also respect and appreciate and am fairly aligned with a blue collar / workin’ man’s life. A line I use on my resume is about the ease with which I move between environments – “I’m as comfortable in the boardroom as I am on the street corner” – but there’s certainly no illusion on my part about belonging in either world.

Still, it means I get to focus on great ideas without necessarily being tied to where they exist, and that’s something I’m passionate about. Most people need to know where they fit in order to validate an idea, but I have no filter like that. I get to look at things and consider both how they exist and how they might exist in alternate form (positive, negative, or indifferent).

It also means that I get to observe and learn things other people can’t fit into the structure of their lives. As someone who spends a lot of time reading and thinking (I freely admit that I am a journalism / philosophy / analytical thought / social sciences junky), I’m usually relating social / personal and professional situations to an understanding of how humans work and what drives us. I’m awed by the power of connection, and by the depth and intensity of the human experience.

Now if I could just find a way to put that on a resume….


What kinds of things are you good at that feel like a blessing and a curse?


15 thoughts on “Where does “Outsider, 2009-2013” go on a resume?”

    1. Same here. I switched gears to working in a startup about 6 months ago, and instantly had to reconfigure that part of my personality from “every detail is perfect” to “it’s good enough to move forward for now.”

  1. Just in case that wasn’t only a rhetorical question, I would point out that resumes are less about who you are and more about what you have been doing. You have been doing a lot. However, because you frequently work independently, you might have to convince an employer that you are also capable of working with others, but you do that at an interview, not in your c.v..

    1. All questions that bounce around in my head are both rhetorical and real =)

      I partly disagree – if work is just something you do to support the things that inspire you elsewhere (and this is fine in my opinion) than a resume is about showing what you’ve done. But if you are looking for work that inspires / challenges / rewards you, then sharing who you are becomes very important.

      Good point on working independently, that is very true.

  2. This rings true for me: “Most people need to know where they fit in order to validate an idea, but I have no filter like that. I get to look at things and consider both how they exist and how they might exist in alternate form (positive, negative, or indifferent).”

    I’m Chinese, Malaysian, Spanish – more or less an amalgam of all – and am fine with that. It gives me strength, hope and a different sense of humor to find how people 10,000 kilometers apart can be so alike in our passions and motivations.

  3. I’m an outsider, too. Too quirky for most settings, too academic for others, too compassionate for still others. Blah. I’m just getting used to being me.

    1. You are a heck of a writer & thinker though.

      I’ve noticed with creatives that the challenge is not to figure out where you belong, but to figure out what actions / movements align you with your inner self. Always work to be done there.

  4. Seems like I’m good at brewing, fairly good at writing (better when I put some muscle behind it), often very good at retaining and making the connections between disparate bits of information, and reasonably good at juggling “too many passions,” so this post really resonates with me.

  5. Joe, what a fantastic post! It probably won’t come as a shock to you that most of this rings VERY true for me. I believe this is why my current job works for me- I am always the outsider, always ensconced in new-ness, never in one place long enough to really feel how…apart I am. It strikes me, looking back at the first night we met in person, the excitement and constant flow of conversation betwixt the three of us, how unique that was for me. To be able to get my geek on, quoting TED talks and (I can only assume) Vigotsky, and have the two of you (at least pretending…) to follow me was so refreshing. But that style of rapid-fire nerdity doesn’t suit everyone. I had a date recently too, I thought I was doing a great job of making human conversation, but he got upset and asked me some rude-ish questions. When I pushed back he said “sorry, I just wanted to hear you say something personal.” In my mind, talking about the theories I am excited about right now, sharing my brain waves, is about as personal as possible. Presumably, human beings don’t feel the same. It’s not always easy being a cyborg.

    1. We did do a good job of pretending to follow you didn’t we 😉

      Interesting that someone misinterpreted the philosophical Rebecca as being impersonal….for me it seems important to have different spheres (rocanroll by night, startups by day being primary examples) but with similar intensity. I think there’s a great deal of magic to be had in this life, but it is something that each person owns and there’s no right or wrong way to be passionate.

  6. A lot of what you’ve discussed in the blog post is about coping in different workplace cultures –which is a very narrow facet of life. Important but narrow and hence, not always the best benchmarking place.

    Yea, sure I’m abit on the margins already: almost 55 and have worked for over 8 employers. I end up with a messy looking resume. So have done some serious pruning…. but wouldn’t trade my work experiences which have been eye-openers whom I’ve worked with and what I’ve seen.

    As for your date who can’t be bothered with a new age hippie or whatever: maybe a better way after you respond with people who live with passion/purpose, is to turn to the person the question: So what turns your crank? And it doesn’t have to be so purposeful in a date situation. But to pose the question in terms of their journey and what they are learning along the way.

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