being different

Every now and then, I think that I ought to take Zen Habits out of my RSS feed. It feels lately like the blog has turned into a treatise on how to become Leo, to make the exact life choices he has. Overall, I’m not interested in being Leo and I miss his thoughts about other aspects of life. Still, I keep putting off making the changes in my feed.

Good thing. Yesterday, he wrote about how to live being different. So often we’re told we need to be like other people, to fit in. It’s not okay to be different in our society and being large is partly an issue of being different. There’s so much judgment if you don’t look like other people. Or if you’re an introvert, it’s not okay with society that you prefer to live quietly and are happier at home than out socializing in bars or clubs or whatever.

There are things I want to change about me. If I’m honest, part of the reason I want to change is that I don’t want to feel so different. I don’t want to feel judged. But coming from that space, I’m judging myself. It’s no longer the other people and what they might think of me – it has become all about me and what I think of me. I have other reasons for wanting to change. Some of the most important reasons are about my health but those reasons alone sadly don’t push me that extra step to make the changes. I wonder if one of the reasons I haven’t changed is a sort of pushing back at what I think society wants from me? I can, after all, be very contrary. Sometimes to my detriment.

Dealing With the Social Costs of Being Different

  1. Embrace your differences. While being different can be a bit hard, it’s not a bad thing. Being different is who makes you who you are. It means you’re daring to live your own life, on your terms, with your values. It means you have courage to stand out from the mainstream. It means you’re interesting. Hug those differences, be grateful for them, own them. Be proud of them.
  2. See the teaching opportunity. Part of why I live my life differently is to be an example, to show that there are alternatives, that we don’t have to be consumerists or buy into the system or support factory farming or be unhealthy or give our responsibility to educate our kids away (for example). And so when people have questions, as tiring as they can be, actually I am grateful for the opportunity to educate, to share, to explore interesting ground with people. […].
  3. Find company in yourself. You can be at a party, in the middle of a crowd of people who don’t connect with you, and be perfectly OK. It’s not necessarily lonely if you like your own company. But you also don’t have to be isolated — see the next item.
  4. Be curious. If you’re isolated at a party, there are ways to beat this. For example, don’t think just because people are different than you that you don’t have things in common. Be curious about them, and instead of thinking, “They don’t understand”, realize that maybe you don’t understand. Get to know them, see the beauty in them, find things that you love, understand why they live the way they do. Listen. Look.
  5. Find friends who understand. The above notwithstanding, there are people who will embrace your differences, even think you’re awesome because of them. They might also be vegan (for example), or they might just be very individualistic people who think your radical-ness is cool. You share stories about your lives, find them fascinating, want to hang out. And in this exploration, you meet some fascinating open-minded people you can connect with.
  6. The nay-sayers drift. While I love my family and old friends who don’t understand my differences, if they constantly attack and get angry and talk behind my back, I probably won’t want to hang out with them as much. They tend to drift out of my life, because they don’t really want to engage in an open discussion, and that makes it hard to have a relationship.
  7. Turn your different-ness into an advantage. While there might be costs to being different, actually there are huge benefits too. Being different means you stand out, which is a good thing in a world where everyone is trying to blend in. It means you’re interesting, because you’re different. It means you are less restricted by what’s comfortable, able to explore new ground, not afraid of things because you don’t know about them. It means you’re learning more than most people. These are huge advantages, if you use them to build a business, make friends, and live the life you want to live.

Leo Babauta: Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different

This, to me, is about loving yourself as you are. Accepting your own differentness. You can choose what you want to change once you’re comfortable being who you are.

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13 thoughts on “being different”

  1. I really like those, Zaz.
    I once again had someone confront me re the dialysis fistula on my arm. I was at a retirement lunch for a former co-worker and this man who I’ve known for 30 years said, “oh geese, what’d that on your arm”. I explained it to him and he replied, “gosh, that’s terrible – how can you stand it?”.
    I told him I “stood it” because it had kept me alive for 14 months. He didn’t get it and walked away.
    Yes indeed, I let him drift away and deleted his photo from my camera.

    I always felt that I was the little match girl, shivering in the cold and looking in through the window at a family, all snug and warm. But after my big illness (3 years ago), it mostly disappeared. Go figure.

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    1. It just weirds me out that a small scar gets that much of a reaction. I still think of it as a medal, not a scar. Going through that changed your perspective, didn’t it? I remember having some of that after my accident. I wore shorts and didn’t give a damn, it was easier to deal with the brace and I didn’t care what people thought. I wonder why I lost that. I don’t even wear shorts around the house anymore.

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  2. wonderful post. I recognized so much of myself in this in terms of always being different, being down on myself for that and so wanting to fit in w/ “the group” and have friends. but I am different and don’t fit in with others and like being by myself lots of the time (just not all the time) similar to your other reader I often felt little matchbox girl and always on the outside.

    have you ever read “the introvert advantage”? if not you might want to think about taking a look at it. I found it to be helpful and it makes some of the same points as above.

    while I agree the embracing my differences in principal, I just don’t think I can do it. I don’t feel strong enough and I do so want to belong somewhere and w/ some peoples. thank you for sharing this.

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    1. I can embrace some of my differences. Some, not so much. Like you, I agree in theory. I don’t think embracing your difference should prevent you from belonging.

      Sounds like we have a small group of people who have felt like they never belonged right here. Even when I’ve had close friends I always felt like I was on the edge of the group. I’m not sure but I think that comes from inside. Mostly. Maybe. I’m teetering back and forth here from feeling excluded or different as a young person and thinking it’s my attitude now.

      I hadn’t heard of the Introvert Advantage, but I heard an interview with the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The things she said rang so true to me and I started getting really interested in introversion. In order to belong, it often feels like we have to be extroverts and I don’t think you change even if you can push it a little. Maybe that’s the problem I’m having with Sarah. Does it feel to you that she wants everyone to be an extrovert?

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  3. a ps to my other comment.

    I find this kind of post much more helpful than “wear red lipstick” suggestion in the “love your body” challenge.

    so thanks again for putting this and yourself out there.

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  4. I am too much of a conformist and not very different from the masses, but I think all of us can learn from these words. I’ve always wondered why being so curious has made me gain friends; it’s because I’m interested in them. 🙂

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    1. Being curious is a good thing – at least most of the time. I am very curious but I tend to not ask others, I wait for them to tell me. I wonder if that comes across as disinterested?

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  5. I was diagnosed with Aspergers a while back. and when that happened so many things about me began to make sense.

    Like how dealing with people face to face just exhausts me at times. I have a jar. I see it like a jar full of shiny jellybeans. Each interaction with a person takes from jellybeans from my jar, and if I don’t have time by myself to refill the jar I will end up curled in a ball, either in my bed or in a corner somewhere.

    But at the same time, dealing with people face to face can also be exciting and uplifting, if it is within a specific set of parameters. Probably that doesn’t make a lot of sense so let me put it this way.

    When I worked in retail, one of the things which would exhaust me was the not knowing what each interaction with people would entail.

    Last weekend I worked here at the election, handing out polling papers. Each interaction with a person had to be exactly the same as far as I would ask them their name, I would find their name in the book, I would give them their polling papers, and say bring them back to me if you make a mistake – and therefore this kind of interaction was not exhausting to me. It was actually exciting and uplifting. It added beans to my jar rather than took them.

    So a few years ago I knew I had to look for more kinds of interaction which would be not exhausting to me – but at the same time I knew I had to push myself with the other kind of interaction as well, and just make sure I had time to refill my jar after those interactions.

    I am different, and these days I do love that fact. It makes me eccentric, quirky, and according to others, quite fun to be around, when I am feeling comfortable enough to be who I really am.

    Embracing your different-ness is something worth doing. In order to do it, you have to be comfortable with yourself. I think becoming comfortable with yourself – for you, not for anyone else – is the thing you need to focus in on.

    So how does one do that? It sounds like it would be an easy thing but I know from personal experience it is not.

    If you asked me to describe how I got from not liking my difference to revelling in it, I would find that pretty difficult to do. I do think part of it was realising you only get this short time here, so you better make the most of it no matter what, and rather than trying to fit in, I could go the other way and deliberately be eccentric and quirky.

    Maybe these are discussions we could have here. 😉 It sounds like they would be useful to everyone reading, from the comments.

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    1. A lot of interesting thoughts Snos. I think that part, that becoming comfortable with your self, is the hardest part. You have to let go of all those fears about what other people think. That is hard to do. I so agree that we only have a short time here and it’s worth being who you really are and not worrying about the rest. I’ve thought about being intentionally quirky (you know, when I am an old woman I’m going to wear purple…) but so far I haven’t been brave enough to do that.

      By the way, interesting idea about using this space to talk about these issues. I wouldn’t mind that at all. Maybe after this LMWL thing is over, if people are interested, I could do a weekly post where those who want to could continue the conversation.

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  6. I should edit this part – I do think part of it was realising I only get this short time here, so I better make the most of it no matter what, and rather than trying to fit in, I could go the other way and deliberately be eccentric and quirky.

    (take out my third person you’s, otherwise people might misinterpret them, lol) 🙂

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  7. Lovely words Zazzy. I feel different too, I’ve never been mainstream and it used to bother me, but not now. I would be very unhappy trying to put myself in situations where I don’t belong but feel that I should belong. I think there’s a difference between that, though, and being afraid to get out of one’s comfort zone. Because sometimes, if we try something, we might like it, and we shouldn’t be afraid to try.

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    1. I agree Polly. Trying new things ought to be something we do our whole lives. You never know what you’re going to enjoy before you try it. I find it hard to do right now and I have some legitimate fears having to do with being able to get around in a new place (walker? wheelchair?) but mostly it’s that fear of not belonging or being perceived as not belonging. Silly, really, who cares what other people think?

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