Dare to be you
When you own it, some strangeness can impress and intrigue.
Look around you. Most people do their best to conform and fit in…like it’s a good thing.
But when it comes to being memorable or attractive, blending in spells certain death.
When I studied abroad in Israel, I joined a group of 500 students from all over the world,
all excited to establish our places socially. In the first few days, cliques formed and a few
beautiful, alpha females and loud, good-looking alpha males, started rising to the top of
the social hierarchy. When the alphas got together, they wore tight shirts and used very
loud (sometimes drunk) voices. Meanwhile I tried to meet people across all different
groups to see who I liked.
I had accidentally enrolled in a Hebrew language class that was way too advanced for me.
Instead of learning basic words, this class was already working on advanced storytelling.
I felt like an alien. I ended up saying really weird phrases, but owning the fact that I
probably sounded ridiculous. This may have come off as independent and creative, I have
no idea. Interestingly, I started getting a lot of attention from the other students.
On the weekends, I sometimes disappeared from the group as my cousins showed me
around Israel. As I got immersed in the culture, I started dressing, talking, eating, and
acting like Israelis. I’d come back to the group, tanned and full of great stories. They
listened, eager as I shared tips about the best hotspots around us. I was unknowingly
leading, and I started holding very strong eye contact, which Israelis are accustomed to.
For an unknown reason I also started to use darker humor.
I quickly realized that almost everyone wanted to hang out with me, including the alpha
females. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I was just exploring, experimenting, and
doing what was interesting to me. It turned out my being a bit different was interesting to
a lot of other people too.
When was the last time you did something a bit different or strange? You know,
something that you did because it made you happy, even if it went against the grain?
At least twice a year, I take a random trip somewhere…alone. This year I went to New
York alone and also participated in StartupBus from Seattle to Texas. Last year was
Nashville and Vegas. Why alone? Wouldn’t I have more fun with a friend? Well, it
forces me to create the experience that I want, meet new people, and even get into extra
fun trouble. I can focus on my environment and always learn a lot about myself.
Kids, try this at home: This month check out an art opening, go to a sporting event or just
take a hike somewhere by yourself. Put yourself out there, talk to strangers and let me
know how it goes.
Since it’s the start of a new school year, think back on some of your first few weeks at
school while you were growing up. How did you establish yourself socially? What would
you do now to either be yourself or try to fit in? Think about the kids you admired in your
schools and what they did to stand out. This fall, I urge you to celebrate your quirks
rather than hide them. Have fun expanding and exploiting what is uniquely you. Now, go
and be your weird self.