“No one is really judging you; they’re too busy wondering if you’re judging them.”
I was very easily embarrassed as a child, so this is the kind of thing my mother used to say often. When she talked to strangers, I pretended I didn’t know her, and she’d remind me again not to be so self-conscious. As I got older, I realized she was right.
Teenagers are rebellious, but it’s pretty interesting to note that they’re rebellious only in certain pre-accepted ways. Most of the time, they don’t want to stand out in a different way, because it’s too much of a risk. Only the edge is acceptable, not what is too far out.
What happens when you step out of accepted boundaries? There are usually only a few responses, and you will fit into a few of them.
My girlfriend and I had a few drinks with an eccentric guy last week, who would just say wild stuff to make us laugh, but was otherwise pretty conventional. Eccentric is the easiest category to be in, and in some ways everyone fits into it, just a little, by having some interest that diverges from the norm. It’s fashionable to be geeky so in a way, eccentric is part of the edge, not the chasm.
Another one but a bit further out than eccentric, the iconoclast is different in many small ways that are obvious. He is edgy in multiple different directions, enough that someone thinks they are on the bleeding edge of things or have a keen eye and care enough to follow that eye. You can become an iconoclast doing things your way (instead of just talking, which probably makes you eccentric).
This is a good one. Most people eventually get lazy or just become fine with where they are. Being more ambitious than that puts you on the edge, too, and you can get there just by trying harder than anyone, having grander plans than seem reasonable, or having an unusual career choice (or none).
If you are ambitious, see something happening ahead of time and act on it, you may become a visionary if what you did becomes a big deal. Even if you’re ambitious and a failure multiple times, that’s ok as long as one of your things becomes successful– you then become a visionary.
Ok, so you should now be noticing that many of these ways of being different are actually good, and that most are just ways of being labelled instead of being true measures of your identity. But there are bad ones too– here are a few of them.
Social convention is strongly tied to acceptable ways of speaking or behaving that follow the common good and that don’t create too many ripples and allow or smooth interactions… and this is truer in English-speaking culture than many others, btw. Anyway the asshole doesn’t care what people think of what he says and he is often willing to say things other people are thinking, but would never say in polite company.
If you don’t go out, are always seen out by yourself, or reject offers to do things too often, you become a loner, or maybe just a loser (if you do nothing else). Loners don’t choose their label but they do prefer their company to that of others.
Finally, the reject. The more valuable it is to be on the inside of the circle, the more stringent the social requirements are for membership and the easier it is to be ejected. The more of the circle you spend your time is, the more horrible this is. In high school I was probably really close to this, and I hated it until I realized there was a big world outside of my school. Then, I didn’t give a damn, and now, I get congratulations from these same people for having co-written a bestselling book. Hmmmmm…
I forget why I started mentioning these, but I realize now that I could make a chart out of them if I wanted. That might be useful.
Anyway, all of these are labels that are attached to you if you behave differently. Do you recognize yourself if any of them? If not, you should be worried, because you are probably boring as hell.
What happens when someone judges you is based on how many of the positive traits you have as well as the negative. Asshole +funny or + ambitious might be acceptable, but asshole by itself is not. Visionary +loner works too. Interesting right?
In social environments where you’ll never see people again, none of this matters. When you do see them again, you just need to replace what you’ve done with something acceptable for a while. This doesn’t work as well if you’re an asshole from the start, but this means that everything is basically changeable.
What is the logical conclusion to this? Do whatever you want, no one cares if you change unless it hurts them, and most of the time, they won’t even remember. Become who you want to be– most of the labels for being out there are good, not bad. If you get a bad one, just remember to add something edgy into it, and you’re back into good territory.
In other words, chill the fuck out.