A misfit is a person who does not fit into society, due to an inability or unwillingness to conform to societal norms. Of course, one could just as easily say that society cannot or will not conform to the standards of that individual. It would be arbitrary and an argumentum ad populum to claim that society is correct and the individual wrong, except according to some standard of goodness. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." Many Austrian economists and other pioneers of new ideas have been misfits in their professions because they did not conform to the viewpoints then prevailing. Examples would include Thomas Szasz, in the psychiatric profession; U.S. Libertarian Party candidates, in the political profession; and so on. Ayn Rand depicts in her novel The Fountainhead a heroic character, Howard Roark, who is a misfit at architecture school and at various architectural firms. One of her other characters, Dominique Francon, seeks to destroy him because he does not belong in the world in which he finds himself.
In some cases, the misfit may be a creative genius who, in Ludwig von Mises' words, "who would have had the power to bring forth things unheard of" but who has been doomed by conditions to sterility and left "no alternative other than to die from starvation or to use all his forces in the struggle for mere physical survival". This can be the result of society being organized in such a way that no room is left for pioneers and their path-breaking.
A person can be a misfit not only in informal social settings, but also in the economic world. Roger J. Williams writes in Free Market Economics: A Reader, "Fitting together people and jobs is just as real and compelling as fitting shoes to people. People sometimes suffer from ill-fitting shoes; they suffer more often from ill-fitting jobs. . . . Learning to live with one’s self is certainly an individual problem, and will be greatly eased by recognition of inborn individuality. Much unhappiness and many suicides can be traced to misguided desire to be something other than one’s self. Each of us as an individual has the problem of finding his way through life as best he can."
- Shaw, George Bernard (1903). Man and Superman.
- von Mises, Ludwig (1949). "Human Labor as a Means". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap7sec3.asp.
- Williams, Robert J. (April 1971). "The Biology of Behavior". The Freeman 21 (4). http://www.thefreemanonline.org/features/the-biology-of-behavior/.