For the second night in a row, it happened. This time, I was standing in my kitchen consulting my Google Home on how long I could safely thaw raw meat at room temperature before bacteria began growing. The moment the shrill, public alert alarm broke through the locked screen of my smartphone as it sat in the living room, I felt my heart sink and my eyes shut involuntarily. Oh, no, I thought, and inched towards the living room as if through wet sand. Oh, no. Oh, no.
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.
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.”
Believe me–I’ve tried.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.