Have you ever thought about why even though we are all individuals and proud of it, most of us live pretty much the same lives? Being truly different is unusual. It is weird. We are social animals, and we want to feel that we belong. It means we need to behave in a way that is accepted by others. We need to do the same things as others do, have similar values, needs and dreams. We need to blend in. When we end up different, we are seen as weird, and we feel like impostors. If you live in a culture different from your own, speak a different language, or have different values, you know what I talk about. In fact, even though introverts make half of the population, we often feel like outsiders. We are often seen as weird. And we let it hold us back.
I like weird. I like the feeling of being a little bit different. I don’t want to be completely different since I still want to belong, but I want to feel that something makes me unique. Regardless of how others see that little special thing, I’m proud of it. I treat my weirdness as my strength. It gives me confidence, and it allows me to be authentic. And even though others may raise a brow when we first meet, they quickly get used to it. Weirdness can hold you back, but it can also be a fuel that propels you forward.
In Weird, Olga Khazan points out that one in eight Americans experience social anxiety, a fear of talking to or being scrutinized by strangers. Half of the Americans then feel lonely and believe that no one understands them. This means that you are not the only one who feels weird. It seems that a significant portion of the population experiences something similar, either occasionally or persistently.
What makes the difference is how you feel about being different. You can succumb to the pressure of conforming. You can get depressed and withdraw. Or you can try to make your uniqueness work for you. Only because you are different doesn’t mean you can’t belong. Only because you have a distinct personality and skills different from others doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. On the contrary, bringing something unique can make you very valuable, regardless of whether you are seen as weird.
Weirdness has a positive meaning
When I say I like feeling a bit weird, I give the word a positive meaning. That’s how the word “weird” came to life. The original meaning was to describe something supernatural or magical. It got a more negative connotation later on, and most recently, it is seen again as something more positive. You can see the word weird in the same sentence with quirky, interesting, or wonderful. I used to travel to Austin/Texas, and the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” is proudly printed on various merchandise. The city is proud of its weirdness and its unique culture. And it attracts people who identify with it. Being weird and proud of it helps you find other people similar to you, with whom you will click and feel you truly belong. If you keep hiding your weirdness and don’t embrace your uniqueness, you will never find them.
Weirdness depends on the environment
It is worth noting that being weird is not an unchangeable trait. Uniqueness and weirdness depend not only on your identity and personality but also on the environment. What makes you feel weird in one culture, country, company, or group of people, can make you feel like you belong in another setting. Wearing a suit for a football game will make you seem weird. Wearing the same in a lawyer’s office will make you fit in.
Your delight in eating crickets may make you weird and even disgusting in one country while entirely normal in another one. Ultimately you have three options. Move to a country where crickets are a standard breakfast, withdraw and hide your habit from others in your current environment trying to fit in and become inauthentic, or make it your thing that makes you unique and interesting rather than weird and disgusting.
Weirdness depends on the context
Khazan points that what is weird and what is normal depends on context. Would you walk in public in your underwear? Probably not. It would be weird and embarrassing. Yet, I bet you have done so. Ever been swimming? Wearing a swimsuit or bikini at the pool or a beach is entirely normal. Yet, it is pretty much the same amount of cloth as your underwear. We call it something different. It is acceptable to be seen in public wearing next to nothing because of the context, in this case, swimming.
Consider the story of Annette Kellerman. A hundred years ago, in 1907, she was one of the first women to swim across the English Channel. When she showed up wearing a one-piece bathing costume with pant legs ending just above her knees, it caused an uproar. This sort of swimming suit wasn’t normal. It was improper. Back then, you would swim in clothes covering your whole body. What would happen if you showed up dressed like this today? Well, you may be banned from the pool. In 2016, the French police caused an international uproar when they fined Muslim women for wearing burkinis, a full-body swimsuit, at the beaches and pools. The reason for the fine? The outfit wasn’t “respecting good morals and secularism.” Some towns even banned burkinis altogether. What was normal a hundred years ago is now seen as improper and is forbidden. It is all about context.
Being weird is difficult
Don’t misunderstand me. Being different is difficult. I say that I don’t care what others think about me. I don’t care, but it doesn’t mean that what others think doesn’t matter. It matters. It may mean you are being ignored and ostracized. You may not get the same opportunities, and you are being treated differently. If everyone around you considers something “normal” and you are the only one who doesn’t conform, you will be immediately an outsider who needs to be approached with caution. What is normal is not a universal truth. It is a social agreement.
Being weird is also empowering
What makes you weird makes you unique and memorable. Your weirdness and uniqueness are your superpowers. Look around at your heroes, and you find that they are weird in some way. They have a unique quirk that makes them special and worth following. As Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall write in Nine Lies About Work, sameness is not worth following. It is the unique quirk of your personality, something that makes you special, that may be key to reaching your followers. The more this idiosyncrasy of yours shows, the more passionate followers you get. There is only one thing that most leaders have in common. They are extremely good at something, anything. They have worked on one or two skills and mastered them. This is their unique quirk. Their unique strengths are so special and pronounced that we follow them.
Being proud of your weirdness leads to authenticity, and that leads to being comfortable with who you are and being more content with your life. Hiding your weirdness will make you miserable. You can’t be yourself. You need to be constantly on guard. You feel like an impostor and a fraud. Embracing your weirdness helps you to get rid of all that negativity inside your head.
Accepting your weirdness and proudly presenting it to the world will lead to people shun you. But it will also attract those who find your uniqueness interesting. It will help you to find those who would genuinely appreciate you for who you are.
Weirdness leads to creativity. Nothing new and creative was ever created by people who were not unique in some way. Weirdness, by definition, encourages novel thinking and provides a different perspective. Weirdness breaks the status quo, and that leads to progress. All the inventions and art we enjoy today started as being weird. People looked with skepticism and disdain at most revolutionary ideas. Yet, with time, what was weird became the new normal.
Enter idiosyncrasy credit
The way how we respond to others often defines how we are being seen. Being yourself just for the sake of being yourself has no value if it alienates everyone around you. It pays off to be flexible. You might be unique in some ways, but there still needs to be something about you that is “normal” that you share with others so you can bond over that. The one thing that makes you different will then be just a point of interest but won’t exclude you from the group.
Psychologist Edwin Hollander coined the term idiosyncrasy credit as “an accumulation of positively disposed impressions residing in the perceptions of relevant others; the degree to which an individual may deviate from the common expectancies of the group.” For a new member of the group, the best strategy to get accepted is to build positive credits by conforming to the group’s norms. When getting enough idiosyncrasy credits, it is safe to show what makes you different. It is accepted as you already proved that you are one of the group. This is often seen also in leadership. A conformist leader who accumulated enough idiosyncrasy credits by exhibiting group values and protecting its norms is given a wider berth to act in creative and innovative ways.
Putting it all together
There is no such thing as being normal. We are all different in some way. Normal is not a question of biology and genes. It is a question of social agreement, environment, and context. You can try to hide and change your weirdness, or you can embrace it.
We all want to belong, but we also want to feel special. Belonging requires being “normal,” the same as everyone else. Feeling special requires being different. It seems that the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. Being a little bit weird. You are similar to others in some of the critical aspects, follow the same rules and norms, but you have some quirk that makes you unique. A quirk you are proud of. It is something that makes you special. You are different, so you have something to contribute with, but you are not too different, so your contribution will be accepted.
What is your take on the topic? Do you feel like an outsider? Are you a bit weird? How are you dealing with being different? Are there situations when it has its advantages? How do you get a sense of belonging when you are different from others around you?
Photo: Merio / Pixabay.com
Follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader