Being Different Sucks–and I Love It

As kids and adolescents, we’re told that being different is a wonderful thing.  “You’re unique,” our parents gush, fluffing out the neon blue tutu we’ve refused to take off for eight days straight.  “You want to stand out from the crowd.  People will always remember you.”

What they don’t tell you is that, once you’re an adult, being different will make you stand out in both positive and negative ways.

Case in point: my Monday.

“Well,” said a voice behind me as I washed my hands in the restroom.

I turned around to find a woman I used to work with passing me a rather smug, though not unfriendly smile. “That was a brave question you asked at the town hall.”

I paused, mid-paper towel wipe, to stare at her blankly.  While I couldn’t deny the presence of a town hall that morning–I had attended, after all–I was a little bemused by her description of my inquiry.  “What do you mean?”

She shrugged, still smiling.  “I mean, no one else would have asked it, especially of our leaders.”

Confused, I erupted into a flubbed mixture of “I wasn’t trying to be controversial” to “The numbers seemed pretty obvious, so I just wanted to know,” and “It was the only chance I’d have to ask them!”

Being Different and Not Knowing It

The issue here wasn’t so much the question of what I asked, but that the question was something that everyone else was thinking but apparently too nervous to say out loud.  I, at time, had raised my hand without question and, other than a flinch at the sound of my voice over the speakers, had charged ahead.

It concerned me that I hadn’t noticed that it was obviously a delicate topic.  Why hadn’t anyone else?

Maybe it was because I was lacking in a couple of extra hours of sleep.  Maybe it was because, after six years in the same company, I’d finally felt comfortable speaking my mind over a microphone in front of my peers, my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s bosses.  Maybe it was because, after a year of epic awesomeness, I finally felt empowered enough and, wanting to continue being different than the meek girl I’ve been most of my adult life, went for it.

I mean…if you can’t jump in with both feet and not realize how deep the well is until you’re sinking to pressure-crushing depths…what canyou do?

I confess:  I love being different.  In some practices, in order to learn more about myself (hmm–that sounds like a future blog post), I’ve purposefully tried different styles.  For example, right now I’m in the habit of dressing like a 1960s housewife, knee-length skirt and all.  It’s fun, it’s different, and it makes the workday go by.

But that’s just how I look. The way I act is a different story.

I don’t consciously drive myself to behave a certain way.  At least, not anymore.  The last incident of that occuring was in high school, when I emulated my older sister in order to be popular.

Being different often just seems to put myself in my own way.  It can be frustrating. When that happens, I will try to lessen what I believe are my odd mannerisms to blend in and hopefully remove any spotlights.

And yet, there are many times that I seemed to miss the memo of how to be like everybody else.

Speaking Different

Hola.  Ohayo gozaimasu!  These are how I greet friends and family.

Not too bad, right?

The dry cleaners lost my favorite designer gown.  I am not pleased.  My way of saying that I am royally pissed to all heck.

Yeah, a little stranger, but just a little bit.

Fiddlesticks.  Dagnabbit.  Flab-jabbit.  Apple cider vinegar.

This is how I curse.

No, not to cover up the more obscene language I use in my personal household. This is honestly how I curse.

Just this week alone, someone asked me how I was doing.  Do you know what came to mind?

Spiffy.  Dandy.  Just swell.

I’m 36 years old, people. No one I know of any age, race, denomination, or sexual/gender orientation even remotely talks like that.

I can hear you all now:  “Um, okay, sooo–stop trying so hard and just talk normally, then.  You can use modern slang and not make it a big deal if you really, really wanted to.”

No…I can’t.

Believe me–I’ve tried.

Creating Different

This last weekend, my stepmother invited me to take part in her family’s annual cookie-making extravaganza.

Oh, how the cookies flowed from the oven!  Chocolate, orange drop, tea cookies, red velvet brownies, conventional brownies and–the star of the show–sugar cookies.

It was the sugar cookies that were whisked to a separate table where contestants of all ages worked vigilantly with colored icing to decorate and submit their edible artwork for the annual contest.

At first, I resisted joining the decorating festivities.  I was tired, I couldn’t think of anything, blah, blah, blah.  However, after being aggressively cajoled to give it a try (by no less than four people), I conceded to sit down and go for it.

Inspiration struck me like a thunderbolt that had learned to slap.  I scanned the cookie tray, taking up two shapes that would work best as my blank canvases.

“Uh oh,” my stepmother said, “I think B’s got something.”

In the end, I was quite satisfied with my two submissions, especially my second one.

First, let me present the full spread of submissions from all contestants.  See one that stands out?

For those of you who don’t already know:

In The Mind of B, one does not–I repeat, does not–merely design cookie art within the standard boundaries presented.

A gingerbread man is not simply a gingerbread man.  Instead, he is a full mural of a delighted fisherman slinging his rambunctious catch out of turbulent waters:

And a Christmas tree cookie?  Oh, that is far from just being a Christmas tree cookie.

My current kick of general interest has steered me towards the very unique and astoundingly talented sculptor Jim McKenzie.  Just earlier the same day, I had watched a trailer of his debut show, “Lost Magic,” from 2016.  His art piece “The Nest” was especially haunting:

“The Nest,” by sculptor Jim McKenzie.  Image taken from Twitter.

So, of course, I’m gonna emulate this timeless look onto an evergreen-shaped sugar cookie.  It only seemed fitting.

I did a pre-tty good job, if I do say so myself.  I even had enough Christmas spirit to give it a holiday theme.

Sucka won second place amidst some competitive judging–which may have included my father in the panel.  But I can’t recall all the details clearly.

Bias, you say?

What bias?

Meh, who am I kidding?  Whilst people oohed and ahhed over all the other cookies, both of mine received a pause, a silent stare, and then a hasty, high-pitched, “That’s…cute!”

Yep.  They hated them.

But that’s okay, because they were mine, anyway. 🙂 And, delicious.

Loving Different

In the middle of October this year, I took an eight-hour flight to land for the first time in The Netherlands. My manager nominated me to attend a young leadership summit with approximately 1,800 of my peers.  The summit was literally life-changing, as it made me aware of not just the struggles that the rest of the world works through, but also my own realization that I want to help.  (More about this in a future post, I promise!) 

After the summit, I took the Eurostar from The Hague to London, where I flew back to the States after three days of “me time”.

For most people, one of the most exciting moments of their lives might be attending the summit with friends, visiting clubs on their off evenings, visiting historical pubs and museums in London, and taking the epic Harry Potter studios tour.

Those are all wonderful, and I would surely have enjoyed them.

However, almost nothing that I’ve done in my life affected me as much as navigating three hours into the English countryside to find myself in a village of 1,000 people and tearing up before the gravestone of a folk singer I would never meet.

A Perfect Moment

It was probably a plethora of experiences that had led to that moment–the culture shock of the OYW young leadership summit I’d attended; the overload of stimulation from meeting thousands of people, including a handsome stranger I’d asked out for coffee :); my fighting through a vitamin D deficiency that had kept me bedridden the day before.  Still, it was that very moment, which I never even dared to fantasize would happen, that invoked connection, emotion, triumph and an inner calm and peace that I never thought I’d feel.

Funny how that works.

Most would find the perfect moment in a concert, or at a mountaintop, or with a beer and within poignant conversation.  For me, chilled and silent and alone, kneeling in front of a grave in the middle of nowhere thousands of miles from home, I learned what I was capable of so long as I wanted it enough.

Connecting Different

Several months ago, as my small team at work was still acclimating to each other, one of my coworkers recommended that we perform a Trust Equation on one another.  In this assessment, we would calculate how much we trusted one another by scoring our credibility, reliability, and intimacy levels.

When I met with each coworker, including my manager, they scored me respectively well in credibility and reliability.  However, my scores in intimacy were a slap in the face.

Every one of them scored me low.

They were apologetic yet firm as they explained their rationale behind their numbers.  “You keep to yourself a lot.” “You close up,” “Sometimes, I’m not sure how to approach you.” “You know you like your time to yourself.”

I do.  I do.  I know.  I do.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice how easily and naturally my teammates seem to interact with others.  How long they stand over each other’s cubicles to chat–about what?  What could they possibly be discussing for so long?

And why don’t most people stay that long at my desk?  For me, it’s ask the question, the awkward pause, and then the even more awkward departure.

Small talk.  Networking.  Opening myself up.  Making myself vulnerable to strangers, even if it’s just for a simple lunch date.  Those actions are not intuitive for me.

It’s like how most people are when they go to the gym.  It’s not always fun; you have to plan how to get the most from the situation; and you’re often in pain and exhausted when the session is over.

But then I see how much benefit my teammates, the cast from the radio show I’m voice-acting in, even my own family, have such an amazing connection in interacting for so long with one another, and I wonder–why can’t I get the formula down?  What am I doing wrong?

How do I learn it?

looking near camera

Proudly Different

Back to the town hall incident.

As part of my neuroses, there is still a part of me that laments about whether my question embarrassed my manager or our team.  However, I have to let it go–partially because my manager hasn’t acted any differently since then, and also because one of the very leaders told me it shouldn’t.

I ran into her in the break room and, upon her seeing me and recognizing me, she smiled.

“Thank you,” she said, “for asking that question.  It was a good question, and it needed to be said.”

I, in classic B ramblings, said things along the lines of “thank you for answering” and “I know it was the only chance I’d have to ask” and the like.  She, for her part, didn’t seem too mortified on my behalf.

A steadfast part of being different in my way is that I’ll probably always feel a little off from how everyone works.  But then, maybe I should continue to work towards being more “on” in how I work instead.

If I am sure of how I am–who I am–then maybe everyone else will be, too.  And then being different won’t matter that much to anyone.

Social Anxiety: I Have a Mouth but I Can’t Scream

Speech.  Social anxiety’s worst enemy.

Talk. Chat. Socialize.  Comment.  Network. Complain. Yell.  Argue.  Discuss.  Brief. Debrief.

In the English language alone, there are thousands of words set aside for describing every type of verbal expression.

So where does that leave someone who struggles with socializing?


In just over a month’s time, I will be attending the OYW 2018 Leadership forum.  This honor was imbued (teehee–love that word) upon me by my current manager at my job, and I couldn’t be more pleased, excited, and ecstatic to attend.

Yesterday, however, the OYW administrators emailed the agenda of activities and the option to sign up for workshops.

Great!  I thought, opening the email and scanning through the list.  I’d been wondering what we would be doing each da—

And that’s when I read it.  The statement nestled between every other timeslot for all the days.

Networking with fellow delegates.

Networking with delegates.

Networking with.

Networking.

Networking.

NETWORKING.

Speaking Is Golden

It is my understanding (and numerous observations) that people like to talk.  That a lot of people talk a lot. Some of these people are good at talking.  Some of them…enjoy talking, even if they don’t have the most accurate of words to express themselves.

Of course, speaking is only half of it.  The other half is being able to approach strangers on the street, at a party of unknowns, in the mall or at a festival.  People don’t make them nervous.  They don’t think of the worst (albeit oftentimes unrealistic) possible scenarios if their communicative tactics are off the game.

Despite my struggles now, I didn’t have much trouble socializing as a child.  In fact, my mother has told me that I was rather confrontational.  When my older sister and I were under 10 years old, I would get in the faces of any naysayers who dared to put her off.

I had friends in elementary school, and we interacted enough where everyone had a chance to talk on equal ground.  No one dominated. We said what we needed to say and moved on.

  • Kid:  B!
  • Me:  Yeah?
  • Kid:  You’re It!
  • Me:  No, I’m not!
  • Kid:  Yeah, you are. I tagged you!
  • Me:  No, you didn’t!
  • Kid *chases me; tags me* Now you’re definitely It.
  • Me: Fine.  *resumes game*

Nice, isn’t it?  It’s simple, straightforward, easy to follow, and easy to understand.  Kids don’t mince words, not to themselves or with adults.  If they have something to say, they say it without leading up to it.

As adults, many of us lose that ability.  Society dictates that it’s wrong to just approach someone and tell them what you want without using some generic lead-in to create a sense of politeness, concern, and niceties.

Aka…small talk.

  • Adult:  Good morning, B!
  • Me:  Good morning!  How are you?
  • Adult:  Good!  How are you?
  • Me *deep inside my mind*:  Honestly?  I’ve felt like crap for the last three days, and it’s too cold on this floor. I could seriously pass out right now.  If I do, leave me on the floor.  I don’t care who sees me.
  • Me *in reality*:  I’m good, thank you.
  • Adult:  Did you have a good drive in to work?
  • Me *in my mind*:  No; my SUV was T-boned, so I decided to walk the rest of the 10 miles here.  I’m like the Unbreakable man; nothing touches me!   Lawl!
  • Me *in reality*:  Not bad!  Little traffic.  Oh, and the stoplights were out.
  • Adult:  Omigosh, I saw that!  Took me twice as long to get here!

Nine times out of ten, this conversation is nothing more than to ask Mr./Mrs. Adult if he/she can check in the flippin document on the shared web space, or invite him/her to a long overdue meeting.

The Rise of Social Anxiety (aka WTF Happened)

Somewhere between the playground and the office space, meeting new people made me anxious.  Not all people, necessarily, and not anxious all the time.  But there was certainly a difference in eyeing up bullies in my youth, to wanting to work alone through lunch.

The change is most noticeable between college graduation and landing my full-time first job as an English teacher.  I like to call this time The Age of WTF Happened.

It’s not an elegant title.  But then again, neither was that age.

I’ve touched on similar moments in various posts, from my desire to find escape to unintentionally “hermiting” myself three years ago.   To keep the story short here, the WTF Happened age was a time when I truly doubted myself among strangers–not only with my abilities, but with my very personality.

Even as I sit here on my lunch break, looking around at the people scattered across the courtyard, everyone is talking.  In pairs, in trios, in groups; even the people sitting solitary are pacing the walkways chatting on their phones.

Yep–the average person loves to talk.  And that’s great!

But…it’s just not me.  And trying to make myself feel that way, only makes me feel worse.

My strength of expression is not in speaking.  Even if it was as a child, it isn’t anymore. I’m not the person who formulates a quick idea and has it ready in the middle of an important meeting.  I’m not the one who walks up to every stranger in a party, hand extended and smile gleaming.

But I know if I want to achieve certain goals in my life…If I want to give good interviews as my acting and voice acting careers expand…if I hope to introduce myself and get to know whatever man will be the love of my life…if I want the OYW Forum to go well and gain many powerful connections…

I have to be ready to socialize–social anxiety be durned.

Social Anxiety ≠ Nervous

I can hear those reading this who might not have ever suffered from social anxiety, thinking, “B, relax.  We all get nervous in front of new people.  You just gotta suck it up and keep doing it until it becomes habitual. You’re gonna feel so much better once you’ve done it.  So–do it.”

And I repeat–I will do it.  To get where I want to be in life, I have to.

But the sigh of relief and exuberance in the way you probably expect me to feel once I’ve crossed that bridge will not always arise.  If it does, it won’t always be for the reasons you’re thinking.

The shaky hands, urge to hide away and cry out my stress, and the necessity to surround myself with the things that would never wish to see me scared or hurt, will arise.  The shame that certainly, I said the dumbest things ever and not only am I disrespected, but probably boring, will flood me at the most inopportune times.

And this will repeat inside every time I do it.

It’s mostly illogical thoughts, yes.  But it doesn’t stop the very real, physiological reaction. The repetition just makes the aftermath easier to anticipate and prepare for.

That is the difference between social anxiety and nervousness.  At least it is for me.

What Social Anxious People Want

A person who has never suffered from social anxiety cannot understand how much a person who has, want so badly to not only express themselves, but to express themselves and enjoy the experience of expression.  They want to tell their favorite joke and watch their audience burst into bright, admirable laughter as they gaze on in respect.

They want to disagree with someone and not expect the world to charge down on their heads.

They want to tell someone, “Hi, I’m B,” and reach out their hand–and happily anticipate the cheery response: “Hi, B!”

They want to walk in a crowd and not have the crowd overwhelm their every pore.

The closeness.

The body heat.

The chatter from all directions.

The shuffling to nowhere.

The expressions on everyone’s faces.  The impatient ones. The angry ones. The exhausted ones.

The anxious ones.

They want a moment when social anxiety is not on their minds.

Defying Social Anxiety

For me, I have two moments when social anxiety is a distant thought.

One is when I’m writing.

The other is when I’m performing.

Once I had a co-worker and fellow introvert double-take on me when I showed him my recent live voice acting performance in the radio drama The Blood Crow Stories.  “So, you had no problem performing in front of all those people?” he said.

I thought about it for a second.  “No, not really.”

He himself paused, to reflect on my answer.  At last, he looked me sincerely in the eye and asked, “What makes performing not affect your anxiety, versus being in a party?”

Good question.

My answer:  I am able to hide some of my weaker natures from the crowd.  At the same time, I am giving every essence of my soul to offer a quality presentation, thus leaving myself much more vulnerable than I could ever be at a party starting a conversation with “Hi.”

If my performance sucks, the crowd will tell me.  If they like me, they will tell me.  But I will know immediately where I stand.  It’s the sweet simplicity of childhood all over again.

I feel stronger when I am not speaking–at least, when I am not speaking in the conversational sense.  Oh, I will happily hold an in-depth, spiritual conversation with a person one-on-one (that’s the introvert in me).  However, if I want to introduce my true self to a group of people, they will see it so much faster and fuller if it is in the setting of performer vs. audience.

Performance.  My writings.  Music and art.  Eye contact.  Touch.  Presence. 

The rare and elusive comfortable silence.

These are the communications I cherish.

The famous saying goes that you know you’ve met a true friend when you can sit in comfortable silence with them.  This is what I seek in the people who will stay in my life for many seasons.

Because on the days when my social anxiety flares up and affects even them, they will hardly notice.

Because I’ve already “greeted” them in my own way.  And they’ve “greeted” me.

And in this Tag life, we can play the rest of the game together.