When I was about 6 or 7 years old I remember my mother telling me the world did not revolve around me. Like most parents, she wanted to teach me there are different perspectives in the world, and I wasn't the one and only.

Growing up, I learned how to respect other people's views and thoughts, and realized we all come from different places and experiences. I learned we all have families, dreams, fears and a desire to belong. I think all children learn how important it is to fit in when teams are being picked in gym class and we realize we fear being picked last.

During middle school, I learned that fitting in requires showing that we belong to a group. One of the easiest ways to do so was by putting down others. I watched many students get in trouble for using derogatory names to put down certain ethnic groups. I even remember a teacher spending half the class telling us how wrong an offending student's comment was.

I also learned that it was OK for the kids to call me a fag or queer. In gym class, a group of students were really laying in on me using these words, and the coach said, "Knock it off -- until after the game." It needed to stop for the focus of the game, but the name-calling could return when the game was won.

So hurt and upset with the name calling, I went to a teacher for support. I was told it would just be easier if I would "fit in."

After high school I headed to college and then to corporate America, where I learned it was just as important to fit in. Everyone was kissing ass and fighting there way up the ladder. If you weren't in on the game, you were pushed aside and judged. Now we labeled people "slackers," "lazy," "not leadership material" or "not a team player." These were the new names used on a different kind of playground.

After years in the rat race, I realized that my mother's advice -- that the world did not revolve around me -- had led me to believe that I should live my life by what others expected of me. Of course, this belief was reinforced by teachers, peers, co-workers, leaders, society and others around me.

I wasn't living my own life; I was living my life for others so I would fit in. It was time to break that mold.

Here are my tips for letting go of the idea of fitting in, and for creating your own voice:

1. Be aware - Start to take inventory in your life. What are you doing that you really want to do? What are you doing to fit in? What choices are your own and which are pushed on you by others? Starting to pay attention to your own dreams, goals and passions allows you to start being authentic to who you are.

2. It is about creating and not finding - I don't mean your voice is hidden in a box somewhere and you have to go find it. I mean you have to create it, and you will keep creating it your whole life. It is a process of discovery where you'll find out what you like, want and need in life. Those things will change as you continue through life. You just have to be willing to begin the process and enjoy the journey along the way.

3. 5 years - Start asking yourself this question: "Will [whatever I'm struggling with] matter in five years?" I think you will be surprised how often the answer will free you from worry about something you're about to do or regret about something you've already done. You live only once, and you need to get the best out of this life. Putting things into perspective helps you really decide what is important and what is not.

4. The company you keep - Pay attention to the people you keep around you. Do they respect you? Do they allow you to have your own thoughts and make your own choices? Or are they quick to judge, direct criticism and negative comments at you, and keep hurting you with their words? The people you keep around you affect your life more than you know. There are tons of people who will accept you for who you are -- you just have to be willing to look for them and, of course, not judge them in return.

I guess, in the end, it is all about you. There is a balance to understanding that we are all part of a larger community, but ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness.

A lot of people say it's hard to be yourself. Well, it really isn't. It is only hard when you're still holding on to the idea of fitting in. When you truly let go, you'll be at a place where you are just being yourself. You'll notice you no longer have to say hurtful things and put others down to feel better. You'll no longer feel obligated to act or say certain ways. You are just you. Simple and easy. Realizing this will take time.

What is the best part of being yourself? No one can do it better. Being yourself is what makes you unique. No one can copy that, and, deep down, many people wish they could. It is easier being free from the trap of fitting in.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Michaelmonizbw_250 Michael Moniz is a life coach focusing on the LGBT community. His practice helps others
with self-image, communication skills, self-leadership and setting and achieving goals. Check Michael's website for more information and to schedule private consultations.

Do you have a question about how to improve your life? Send an e-mail to [email protected]

Tags: Lifestyle