I have discussed this before but need to remind myself again. A friend posted a cute photo of himself in middle school, teasing himself about being nerdy. As he is successful both personally and professionally, it got me started thinking about the notions we carry around from adolescence.
Adolescence is recognized as a pivotal point in our social development. It’s when every brain cell you have is disrupted in its normal functioning by a constant bath of ravening hormones (did she say ‘bath’? People are nekkid in baths! Delicious thought segue to nekkid bath scenes…).
You are somehow supposed to grasp algebra, become a better human being, and religiously remember your retainer while being utterly distracted by thoughts of soft fuzzy sweaters and devils in blue jeans. It’s also when you are forming social groups and behaviors that will see you through to adulthood. Most of us just tried to fit in with whatever our chosen group was – or our default group of fringe folks who didn’t fit in with the other groups. Not even fitting in with the fringe is also tremendously painful.
In my thirties I decided to quit trying so hard to make myself fit in and make friends and concentrated on surrounding myself not just with people I wanted to be like (although there are people I would still like to emulate) but with people who simply *liked me* as I was. My life still has ups and downs, of course, but overall has been on a positive trend since then. The downs are more obviously from some unknown biochemical cause rather than masked by personal dilemmas. Can’t do anything about the rain but hunker down and wait it out, so to speak. Much better than flailing around in the ditch you fell in from living a harmful lifestyle and doing incredibly stupid things to yourself.
I try to welcome those who welcome me and shrug off those who don’t. *Try*. When I find myself slipping back into the old pattern of “likemepickmelikemeplease” I also try to back off. That is tremendously difficult. We are conditioned to play Red Rover from childhood, to march in step or be trampled, to seek approval and acceptance from our peers.
Raising the bar for who you consider to be your peers is a good first step. Not by elitism, but by compassion. Who has walked a hard path and still turned to help the next person along? Who knows what that ditch is like? If those folks look you in the eye and give you a nod, that means far, far more than getting to sit at the lunch table with the team leader or being invited to a sportsing watching party on payday and knocking back a few beers.
I still make my jokes about hairy legs and whatnot, but not to get people to accept my personal preferences, merely to let them know that I am indeed aware of my differences and they can relax and accept them, too. It’s like confronting a bully. Once you establish the boundaries of your self-confidence, others will adjust. Obviously this is tremendously difficult as well.
Here’s to middle age and accepting oneself far, far more easily than in adolescence! Here’s to going from fighting who your parents think you should be to striving to be the person your pets think you are! Here’s to waking up with yourself, as Billy Joel put it, and being ok with that. No, seriously. Think about it.
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