Sorry to be a dick, but there’s very few attitudes that actually, objectively hold people back from improving in SF more than refusing to play top tier characters for a petty sense of uniqueness.
If you REALLY want to play the game above the button-masher beat-your-terrible-friends-with-crossup-to-BnB-loop-play level, you need to be honest about what kind of player you really are, what level you’re at, and where your strengths and weaknesses really lie.
I went into SF4, for example, wanting to play Viper, full of silly fantasies about blazing across the screen, 10-second victories, and clutch Ultra juggles. About 30 minutes flailing around in training mode taught me I didn’t have the execution to play her, and further reflection on how I tended to lose versus how I tended to win versus how I tended to lose in games like CvS2 told me I didn’t really have the psychological/strategic mindset to play her. I was more of a slow-and-steady midrange/defensive/pokey kinda guy, and I had to get down with that.
So instead of throwing myself at a very high wall trying to play a cool character that wouldn’t really click with me and getting very sick of the game very fast, I gave “simpler” characters like Bison a shot and found that not only did I do better with them, but I actually liked them as characters a lot more than I thought I did. (I will concede, however, that it’s a lot easier for most people to like Bison than other characters. God, he’s awesome.)
Point being, it really was not all that soul-wrenching to do so. Granted, that was like, day one SF4, but when I switched back to Bison from Vega (still not sure WHY I switched to Vega in the first place), it was humbling at first, but I got over it within a couple days. If you can get over yourself for just a little while and consider the strategy and execution involved in playing a given character rather than where they fall in the tier lists, you may find a connection with a character that you never anticipated. I know for sure I never thought I’d play Bison, but in the end I’m pleased with the result.
And as for being a beautiful and unique snowflake because you picked somebody who’s not Ryu or Balrog or Sagat…speaking as a guy who’s been there (I used to be “that Vega guy”), you are beautiful and unique for about 5 minutes, tops, until you get double-swept and become yet another couple bucks lining the pockets of the top 3. All you prove by being “that Gen guy” or “that Fuerte guy” when you are really struggling to put anything together with those characters is not that “I want to distinguish myself as a player” but a childish “I want attention! Everyone praise me for picking somebody weird!”. The worthwhile people in these communities care who you are as a player and as a person – they could give two shits who you pick on the select screen. You want respect, show up to ranbats/casual gatherings, show up to tournaments, integrate yourself into the physical community around you. Nobody’s gonna hand you props just cause you picked somebody “different”.
The only way to distinguish yourself among good players is to prove that you want to win (or at least prove that you want to LEARN to win) by playing whatever character gives you the best chance of doing that, based on an honest (and somewhat brutal) appraisal of your own strengths and psychological tendencies. No, you don’t have to pick a top-tier character to achieve that, but it’s no less stupid and petty to say “I refuse to play x because they’re top tier” than it is to say “I refuse to play y because they’re bottom tier”. If you pick an “overplayed”/top-tier character and prove that you (a) are really trying to learn that character front to back, and (b) are not a totally repellent person, you will get respect from the people that matter.