TED's 31 days of Ideas - Day 31: The beauty of being a misfit

The beauty of being a misfit

By Helen Walters

Misfit is a funny word. And yet even for those who don't, as Lidia Yuknavitch does, identify as a "card-carrying misfit," it likely brings along a twang of recognition. After all, everyone everywhere has experienced at least a moment or two when, actually, everything everywhere didn't seem to fit quite right. Right?

As a writer and memoirist, Yuknavitch is also the patron saint of misfits. And she came to TED in 2016 to reassure her compadres in the room -- "I'm never the only one" -- and in her quiet, sweet-but-tough way, to tell us her story. Of the death of her daughter, of her own circuitous journey through life and success, of the times she failed and the lessons she learned, and her realization along the way that being a misfit is nothing to be ashamed of but a way of life all its hard, complicated own.

I was in the room in Vancouver that day. In fact, I was hosting the session in which Lidia spoke. And towards the end of her lyrical, gentle, barnstorming talk, I stopped listening, for two reasons. First, because I knew her words were going to make me cry, and no one needs a tear-stained host failing to hold things together. But second, because I wanted to see if she was right, if other misfits were indeed in the room and, if they were, if I'd somehow be able to see if they were listening, if they were hearing. The rapt and, yes, tearful faces of those assembled and the pin-drop quiet in the room made it clear: whether or not we identify consciously with the label, we all know, we all relate. And in that moment, Lidia assured us that it’s OK to acknowledge and accept misfittery in ourselves and in all. It was a beautifully cathartic, bonding moment unlike any I've ever experienced at TED.

"Your story deserves to be heard, because you, you rare and phenomenal misfit, you new species, are the only one in the room who can tell the story the way only you would."

I've probably gone back and watched the talk online 50 times since then, and I cry every time, just as I didn't in the room. Happy tears, prompted by a smart, kind, insightful, new-found hero. Thank you, Lidia.