Sometimes people avoid something or someone “different” because of fear. We are all afraid of the unknown and usually don’t know how to act around someone that is different. What if we say the wrong thing? What if we offend them? Sometimes people do say things that are outright offensive. However, you always have a choice. You can choose to get offended when people make their snide remarks about whatever it is that makes you different, or you can join in on the fun and beat them to their punch line. You have the choice to be sensitive and potentially make people feel uncomfortable when they’re around you or to fully accept who you are and have some fun. It’s amazing to see how making light of your physical difference can warm people up to you. It sends a clear message to them that says, “I am so comfortable with who I am that I can even poke fun at myself.” However, this isn’t for everyone. If poking fun at yourself isn’t your style, the take home message from this post is to not take yourself too seriously or get offended easily.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of teasing yourself was when Pete Conrad (5’6”) made a trip to the moon, being only the third person to do so. I’m sure you recall the famous words of the first astronaut to walk on the moon, from tall Neil Armstrong: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Conrad, upon returning, made headlines by saying, “That may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me!” In this instance, Conrad teased himself for having a much smaller stride than his taller predecessor.
It was amazing to see what teasing myself did for me during high school. During that time, I decided to run for Student Body Vice President. I made my height the central theme in my campaign, poking fun at myself and showing people that I was comfortable with who I was. For the first round of the campaign, everyone had to give a speech about why they should be elected out of the entire student body of 1,800 students in a general assembly. I began my campaign speech by slumping a little as I walked to the podium and exaggeratedly pretending that I wasn’t even tall enough to reach the microphone. Then, I visibly grabbed a phone book I had stashed nearby and showcased it for all to see as I put it below my feet and stepped on it. Now I could reach the microphone and I began my speech with, “Oh, that’s much better.” The student body roared with laughter and clapped their approval.
I was thrilled that I got enough votes to make it to the next round in which we were required to perform a short skit. My skit was about a short, wimpy guy who was bullied and teased by the brutes from our rival high school, Brighton. They ridiculed me by singing “Lambert the Sheepish Lion” and then wrapped me up in a lambskin and threw me in a garbage can. I had a transformational moment with a personal trainer and turned into “Lambo, Defender of the Pack.” I found a way to courageously defend some Hillcrest high girls from the mean Brighton bullies. The students went wild, laughed, and loved every minute of it. Again, it may not be your style to make jokes in front of others and I don’t advocate this kind of self-deprecating humor if it doesn’t come naturally to you. However, if you feel very comfortable with your difference and have had success in getting people to laugh about it in the past, you may be able to turn your difference into an asset and help others to be more comfortable around you.
The rest of this post has now been published in my book Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different in Kindle or hard copy.The book includes experiences from 74 people I interviewed who share their struggles and coping strategies on the topics of relationships, belonging, standing out, self-acceptance, working against labels, gaining understanding and compassion, and personal growth. Check it out!
“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” – Bill Cosby