Be the contrarian kid or dance a little crazy and still be invited to coffee
As a kid, I never felt confident. I always felt like I had to act or behave a certain way to fit in. That is because I learned, at an early age, that people didn’t always know how to take me if I was just being myself. I often saw things differently, my sense of humor was different, some of the food I liked was different, my religion was different. I had friends, but mostly because I learned what not to do around others so that I would be accepted in the group. Still, I never felt like an insider.
From One Extreme to the Other
I was biracial and everyone knew it. So, of course I viewed the situation differently.
Over the years, that ‘not an insider’ feeling eventually became my new normal, to the point where I didn’t even notice it anymore. Until one day at lunch in the spring of my junior year in high school. My high school was very diverse, but there hadn’t been a lot of interracial dating. Earlier that year, one of the stars on the soccer team who was black started dating a girl who was white. No one said anything at the time, and it seemed to go unnoticed. Then, it happened again. Then again. By spring, many had started to notice and some of my friends began making comments about it, which became increasingly nasty and mean over time. Then one day at lunch, I said something like “Okay, hasn’t this gone far enough? Can we just drop it already?” I said it in a sassy way, hoping everyone would laugh it off in a “okay maybe we have taken it a bit too far” kinda way. After all, I was biracial and everyone knew it. So, of course I viewed the situation differently. Quite the opposite happened. I stopped getting invited to parties. I got the cold shoulder at lunch. I started getting menacing looks from almost everyone in my group of friends. By the start of my senior year, I had been all but exiled from the group. I learned, yet again, to hide my real thoughts in a group to protect myself from being hurt or shamed.
In college, I swung to the other extreme and basically did, said and behaved however I wanted. I found friends who accepted me as I was, but also alienated a lot of good people who I could’ve connected with if I had shown a bit more restraint, respect or consideration. Over time, I learned to apply the “all things in moderation” rule to more than Oreos and ice cream. I figured out how to share my thoughts and feelings in a way that felt safe, without pushing back in a way that hurt or shamed someone else. I learned that it was okay to have a different perspective, dance a little crazy or be the “contrarian kid”, so long as it wasn’t at the expense of someone else’s feelings.
Finding Middle Ground
Today, I live somewhere in the middle. I don’t compromise my identity, and I always try to show others that I respect and appreciate theirs. I don’t always hit the mark, and sometimes have to apologize if I had an unintended impact on someone else. But my intention is to always be genuine, honest and speak/act in good faith.
My skills, superpowers and perspective come together in a way that is unique me.
I’m grateful for our differences because I learn so much more by hearing different perspectives and ideas, and I can get more accomplished with the help of others who have skills and superpowers that are different from mine. And I can only hope that others appreciate what makes me different, how my skills, superpowers and perspective come together in a way that is uniquely me. Sure, everyone won’t appreciate those differences, and that’s okay.
It took a while for me to get here and some of the lessons along the way have been lonely, difficult or confusing. I wanted to write this blog to share my experiences along that journey. I don’t pretend to know it all or have all the answers, but I have had the privilege of getting some great advice, feedback, support, coaching and mentoring along the way. If my ‘aha’ moments or ‘oh, I see’ lessons can help just one person learn how to avoid living life at either end of the pendulum, then this would all be worth it. Because there is a high emotional tax to covering up, one that I am no longer interested in paying. Today, I strive every day to live safely, comfortably and confidently as “myself”, and I’m passionate about helping others do the same.