On Breaking Convention
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jay, my long-lost best friend from the 4th grade. He was the first friend I had who was unique, who didn’t try to be like everyone else (social constructs were already well-formed in us by then). We were just a couple of dorks together all the time, acting out scenes from our favorite TV shows and whatnot.
People would call us weird and Jay would say “thank you.” I was so delighted by the response that I started doing the same. I had always been called weird and it felt terrible. But I was weird! I was a little black girl who looked like a little black boy. I wore glasses and didn't listen to any of the same music. None of this boded well in the racist, conservative town I was raised.
Amazingly, Jay was the first friend I had who truly accepted me as I was.
The feeling of being an "other" carried over into adulthood. Whenever I'm out and about, I've always felt like an alien on a mission to observe humanity. Everyone else is a part of something I'm not. They’re part of this society that, when observed from a wide enough lens, is one big living organism, moving towards a collective goal. Why couldn’t I be part of this organism? Why did I feel like I'd been left behind?
It really felt like conventional society wasn't built for me.
Despite how I felt, I was part of society. I was working. My life had a promising career trajectory. And yet I still felt left behind. I was so discontent. How was it that everyone else could just live their life and be content? Regardless of pure happiness, they seemed to be better at accepting their life as it was.
Meanwhile, I've been gambling all of my happiness and well-being on the hope that there is something else out there for me. Something for people who don't fit the mold of conventional society.
So far, I think it’s been working out pretty well for me. I have proven that there’s more to life than what my hometown had to offer. I think that may be all I ever wanted. My inner child needed to see that there was more to life. That there were places where I could be different without feeling ostracized.
...And let's be honest. I was never really gambling my happiness. There would have been no happiness in a life where I was constantly trying to fit some mold that wasn't built for me.
As a kid, I felt empowered to be different because Jay was there with me. A security blanket in human form. As adults, we’re unlikely to have our best friend physically by our side for all of our ventures. As an adult, I have to be able to get the strength from that experience without having him physically there. Bad memories aren't the only ones with lasting impact. I must allow the impact of my good memories to resonate as well.
At the end of the day, Jay was just a sign indicating that it was okay to be different, for there would always be people to walk alongside me when I needed it. But I'd only see it if I committed to being myself at all times.
I had to get okay with being weird.
I sometimes try to show people that I’m just like them in exchange for acceptance. But isn't it only through acknowledging our differences that we see that we're actually all the same? Opening up about my personal struggles empowers the people around me to do the same, and in this space is where we learn. In the depths of our struggles lie the universal longings of humanity: safety, purpose, belonging. The search for (or sudden loss of) any of these things define most of our existence. The more I learn about your struggles, the better I can understand my own.
The more I live my life based what's best for me regardless of convention, the more content I feel.
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About the Author: Leo Yockey
Techie, Writer, and Speaker from Los Angeles. Advocate for underrepresented technologists. Hobbies include reading, PS4, and spending time with my girlfriend and cat. If you like what you see here, you may want to join me on Twitter.