Always on the outside looking in?

2012-09-04 11:25



Always on the outside looking in?Reader question:

What does this sentence – As a teenager, he always felt like he was on the outside looking in – mean?

My comments:

It means that as a teenager, he felt kind of like a don’t belong.

In other words, he was not one of the boys.

That is to say, he did not fit in. He was not popular, and he felt lonely. And that feeling is one of failure – to be left out of what is called the inner circle.

The idiom “on the outside looking in” is the thing to learn here, and people who are “on the outside looking in” are generally people who are close to a group but are not exactly part of that group, at least not part of the core group.

Recall your own teenage years. Did you ever have your teacher tell you to stand outside the door as punishment for violating some school discipline? You keep speaking for instance with the student at the next table after the teacher have called the class to be quiet a few times. Anyways, the teacher grows impatient with you and thus orders you to stand outside the door while class resumes.

Have you ever had that type of experience?

Well, first of all, I’m sorry for evoking an unpleasant memory from school. In a perfect world, teachers should never do a thing like that to a student. Ideally, schools should not have any disciplines to enforce at all but the real world is not perfect. Reality is not wishful thinking, i.e. it’s not something to wish for. It is what it is. And the reality remains that schools always have disciplines and schoolchildren do violate them.

At any rate, while class goes on, you’re not left outside standing by the closed door. Occasionally you move your eyes close to the window pane on the door and to take a peek inside – to see what they are laughing about now. Or there’s perhaps nothing in particular to see but you’re just curious. You feel you’re left out in the cold and you want to be back in again, back in again with the boys and be in the thick of things, so to speak.

That’s what it feels to be “on the outside looking in”. Literally you are left ON THE OUTSIDE OF some group or activity LOOKING IN, wanting to join the fray. It’s not a great feeling and it often suggests you’re not very successful, having come close to achieving something and yet not having an opportunity to really have a go at it.

OK, let’s have another example. Last month, Russia joined the World Trade Organization. Finally. It’s a dream come true for many Russians because for years Russia had been on the outside looking in. It long wanted to join the WTO but was not allowed in. China too had that experience – having been on the outside looking in for many years before being allowed to regain full membership. That was back in 2001.

Alright, here are recent media examples of people who are on the outside, looking in:

1. This is a big year for Brandon Jennings, and the Milwaukee Bucks point guard knows it.

After making the playoffs (and a quick first-round exit — as reader Matt Wessel notes, the Atlanta Hawks beat the Bucks in seven) during his 2009-10 rookie season, Jennings' Bucks have turned in two straight sub-.500 campaigns, as the combination of injuries and lackluster offensive production have kept coach Scott Skiles’ team on the outskirts of Eastern Conference postseason contention. With the Bucks in a late-season fight for a playoff berth last year, general manager John Hammond made a somewhat controversial move, shipping oft-injured franchise centerpiece Andrew Bogut and shot-happy swingman Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for scoring off-guard Monta Ellis, sophomore big man Ekpe Udoh and the immortal Kwame Brown.

The move was intended to give Skiles some added firepower as the Bucks looked to vault past the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers into the seventh or eighth spot in the East, but while Milwaukee went 12-9 in 21 games after importing Ellis, the Bucks again found themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. Now, less than two months before players report to training camp for the 2012-13 season, the Bucks find themselves again faced with the question raised by many at the time of the trade: Can Jennings and Ellis, two explosive but small guards who both need the ball to succeed, fit together well enough to push Milwaukee back into the postseason?

Jennings, for his part, seems eager to prove the doubters wrong. From Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

“I really want it to work just personally, because everybody is doubting it,” Jennings said in an interview at his youth basketball camp at Homestead High School on Sunday.

“With everybody doubting it, I think it’s important that me and him, we just work together to show everybody it can work.

“Everybody knows we both can score like crazy. But I think everybody thinks we can’t win together. That’s going to be one of our biggest challenges. I’m up for it and I know he is.”

- Brandon Jennings’ quest to prove he and Monta Ellis can lead Bucks to playoffs has to start on D,, August 20, 2012.

2. Brendan Rodgers prepares to take charge of his first Premier League home game as Liverpool manager against Manchester City but he could so easily be sitting on Roberto Mancini’s bench at Anfield.

Rodgers was sacked by Reading after just six months in charge in December 2009 and was approached to join Mancini the following summer.

He held talks with football administrator Brian Marwood and even flew to Milan to discuss it with Mancini. But the chance to be manager of Swansea ended any chance of the move, despite the prospect of greater riches at City.

After taking the Welsh side to promotion through the play-offs and then establishing them in the Premier League, Rodgers claims his dalliance with City was a boost to his self-esteem at what was a difficult time.

“I was grateful because it was good for my confidence at the time because I’d left Reading having had a long career in coaching and all of a sudden I was on the outside looking in,” he said.

- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admits he almost joined Roberto Mancini's Manchester City revolution,, August 25, 2012.

3. WITH USA Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III set to announce his four wildcard picks next Tuesday, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Brandt Snedeker are among those eager to impress at this weekend’s Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston, beginning tomorrow.

The eight automatic qualifiers were decided after this month’s USPGA Championship at Kiawah Island and Love will round out his 12-man team when he names his captain’s selections in a news conference in New York.

Cup veterans Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are widely expected to be included in that quartet, leaving players such as Mahan, Fowler, Snedeker, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Bo Van Pelt to vie for the remaining two spots.

Watney advanced his claims in style with a three-shot victory at The Barclays tournament in Farmingdale, New York, on Sunday, but readily concedes he was on the outside looking in at the start of last week. “I haven’t performed how I would have liked this year as far as making that team,” said Watney.

“But it’s out of my control so all I can do is try to get ready to play (here) and see where the chips fall.

“Someone told me that Davis said he wanted a hot player, and we still have a week to go. I’d love to be on the team.”

Snedeker has also produced good form in a bid to secure a late Ryder Cup call-up by Love, finishing second at The Barclays for his fifth top-10 of the year on the PGA Tour.

“Ryder Cup’s definitely on my mind, but I’m not letting it affect the way I play,” said Snedeker.

- Last chance to board the Love train,, August 30, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Rubbing it in

Proven track record?

Go to the 'piggy bank'?

Whistling in the dark?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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