Out of Step

How much do you want to follow the crowd? A self-inventory.

Posted Jan 07, 2019

Andres Rojas, CC 3.0, Wikimedia
Source: Andres Rojas, CC 3.0, Wikimedia

Some people fit easily within societal norms, and life is easier for them. But what if you’re not much of a follow-the-crowd person?

Here are three composite profiles, which present many ways a person might be out-of-step. The purpose of these profiles is to help you inventory the ways you are and aren’t normative and what, as we enter 2019, you might want to change...and not.

Jen

Jen is a junior at State U. She spent her first two college years at community college, living at home because she wanted to save her parents money, the quality of teaching is better at community colleges, she didn’t feel mature enough to live away from home, and knew she could get into a more prestigious college later as a transfer student than as a freshman. When, as a senior in high school, Jen told her friends that she was starting at community college and they gave her the “How could you do that?!” look, she shrugged off their shallow condescension.

At State U, while many students were majoring in computer or other science, engineering, or business, Jen chose theater because she was better at words than numbers, liked it more, and felt that long-term, she’d benefit more from the communication skills and values she’d learn from studying and performing in plays.

While she was open to the consistent leftism of professors’ lectures, class-readings, and the go-along-to-get-along student comments, she also made the effort to seek out the rare conservative professor and joined the campus Libertarian club even though she was far from a pure Libertarian.

Recreationally, Jen rarely went to State U football games nor did much partying. “Dancing seems so silly, bouncing your body around for no reason, let alone while high on alcohol or weed. If I want to make a friend, I’d rather do that with thoughtful conversation. Or I’m happy spending lots of time by myself, reading or listening to music (mainly show tunes), and exploring the world using Google.”

She dated less than did her peers, agreeing to even a first date only with someone she thought was terrific, not requiring major compromise or a renovation project. She also held those high standards for platonic relationships. Not surprisingly, because of that and her out-of-stepness, Jen spent lots of time alone and was comfortable enough in her skin to prefer that to lowering her standards.

Bob

Bob’s neighbors were competitive in moving up the job and income ladder, in playing sports, even in the brand of car they drove. Bob disliked competition except a bit of it with himself, for example, challenging himself to learn some software.

Living in Napa, at social gatherings, everyone drank wine, but he didn’t like alcohol’s taste and so usually opted for sparkling water. He often would seek out people who aren't conventionally attractive, knowing they couldn’t get by on their looks so perhaps made the effort to develop a good personality. Besides, it felt virtuous to not be lookist.

Bob’s neighbors were conspicuously fit, getting to the gym before work, following the diet du jour: keto, gluten-free, quinoa instead of potatoes, or vegetarian if not downright vegan. In contrast, he ate moderately with occasional cheats and didn’t spend the money on local/organic/sustainable/fair-trade. He thought, “The chances of that improving my health let alone the planet’s are trivial.” Yes, Bob had gained 10 pounds over the past decade but wasn’t going to obsess about that as did his peers.

When Bob’s dad died, his friends showered themselves on him and urged him to see a therapist to process it. But in the first session, per Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, she asked if he felt guilty about his father's death. He thought not but when she pressed, "Are you sure?" he felt guilty about not feeling guilty! Then she asked him draw a mandala of his heart broken. He demurred. Next, she asking him to create a “memory collage” of his dad. He decided he’d do better to not dwell on his dad but get back to life, allowing memories of his dad to emerge naturally.

Bob was an outsider, out of step, and privately proud of not being a lemming.

Laura

Laura had been a counselor at a health care organization. While most of her fellow counselors dressed for image, she was frumpy and viewed “real” jewelry as a waste of money.

In the break room, while some of the counselors spent considerable time male-bashing, she actually liked most men and couldn’t understand why they and the media disproportionately portray them as jerks or clueless, shown The Way by a woman, and that even still pictures were usually of women, except when portraying a loser, when it was nearly always a white man.

Laura found herself out of step in other ways. Counselors self-righteously proclaimed the importance of expanding transgender rights. Laura didn’t have the guts to raise a question about that but privately thought, “That tiny group is getting an awful lot of attention. Aren't there more pervasive problems that deserve such attention, certainly bigger problems than which bathroom transgender people should use.” On retiring, Laura did the standard good-liberal thing: she volunteered, trying to teach illiterate adults to read but soon quit in frustration with the slow progress. ”I’ll make a bigger difference by reading to and with my grandkids.”

The takeaway

Many people feel great pressure to fit in, even if it eats away at the self they’d rather be. In light of the above, as we enter 2019, do you want to make any changes in yourself? Or to accept yourself more?

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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