I take issue with homogeneity.
A psychoanalyst might trace it back to my high school years, in which we all strived to wear the very same socially acceptable penny loafers, plaid pants and button-down shirts. (Bingo. You win the prize. Why yes, it was the 1980s.)
I left that desire to blend in behind with my teenaged angst and penchant for Adam Ant’s music.
Who cares, really, what I take issue with, right?
It seems quite a few people do. Because they, too, are warriors for peculiarity.
Meaning they have a distinguishing characteristic, make a distinguishing choice—one that might be seen as an oddity or quirk because it varies from the norm. Whatever THAT is.
It’s not that they set out to be peculiar. It’s not that they actually are peculiar in the strictest sense of the word. It’s that they dig deep and find out what makes sense for them, what makes them happy, what makes them tick—and then they follow that siren call.
I want to be clear. I am not applauding those attention seekers who trumpet their differences from the mountaintop. To be different for its own sake stems from an unmet juvenile need for attention. (Yes, please, make yourself comfortable on my couch. I charge by the hour and am no more qualified to psychoanalyze you than Lucy on Peanuts. I fancy myself as savvy.)
But if, in the course of your daily life, you make a choice, pursue a dream, decline an opportunity–and that action differs from the expected norm–you are a warrior for peculiarity.
Like it or not.
These people are the lively alternative to gray men with gray hair in gray suits living gray lives.
I think of my sister’s husband. He served as a marketing executive for most of his career. He recounts traveling the world so frequently each month that he could not remember which country he was in upon awakening.
And then, at that magic age in corporate America—about 60—he had open heart surgery. Years of stress, being a road warrior, playing at corporate politics, did him in. The eve before he was supposed to return to work, his company told him not to bother. He was being downsized. At the time, I’m sure it felt like a crushing blow. To be considered a liability, a risk, an expense.
But now? He looks back, thankful.
Yes, I said thankful.
Did I mention he is driving a school bus?
After realizing that he no longer wanted the lifestyle he had, with its stress and mayhem, he accepted a job driving a school bus. People thought he was nuts. What is a guy who used to wine and dine on multiple continents within the same week doing driving my kids to school?
Having a life, that’s what.
Putting his health, sanity and family above financial gain, that’s what.
Spending time around tiny filled-with-light, non-stop, I’m-so-happy-I-could-burst human beings, that’s what.
And he loves it.
But plenty of people still don’t get it. It’s not a “typical” choice for men close to retirement. At least, not of the executive variety.
He listened to his soul. Probably for the first time in decades. And it said: Have a life, not a heart attack.
I think of the friend who, in the midst of a very successful career, decided to stay at home with his growing boys. And his wife. He traveled quite a bit, solo, for a couple of years to help ground himself again and get clear on what he wanted.
No one quite understood. He hadn’t been laid off. They weren’t in financial straits. He showed up at every school function, took pics, cheered our kids on. He took the time to find his siren call again. Because he had lost it.
Peculiar. In the most delightful way.
Or, the reverse. The stay-at-home dad who is Mark Ruffalo’s doppelganger. I still remember him leading a Daisy troop out of school for an outing, those tiny little chatty ladies following his well over six-foot frame. Much scratching of heads. Him at home? Him doing arts and crafts with the girls—and enjoying it? While he snowboards in his free time?
Peculiar. In the most wonderful way.
So many examples. The former Ogilvy & Mather art director who becomes a priest. The woman who bucks societal norms because she does not want to have children. The couple who live in a very tiny house to keep life simple and debt-free, tinier than many of your master bedroom suites. And, on the less grandiose end of the peculiarity scale, the engineer who continues to refuse promotions to management because he loves what he does. And didn’t become an engineer only to be a miserable manager.
We look askance at those who don’t adhere to our American cultural values, not least among them prestige, financial success, the hipster image, and the need to hide any soul searching or floundering beneath a blanket of self-assurance.
I call these people warriors for peculiarity. Tongue in cheek. Because they’re just living their lives. Checking that internal compass and following it, even when it takes them off the grid. Which, for most of us, is a brave, bold, ballsy move.
Probably shouldn’t be so, but it is.
I’m hoping when an army of these warriors finally shows itself, that fact will change.
It’ll be the people who follow the circumscribed path without questioning it—college, post-graduate work, skyrocketing career, 2.2 children and adoring spouse, vacations in the appropriate eco-friendly destinations—who will feel outnumbered. Not that this path is not valid. But we should not take to it like lemmings, unless it truly suits us.
Normal is a spectrum, not a box.
And there are a lot of paths to happiness.
Here’s to finding the right one.
16 Comments Add yours
I’m not one for tattoos, but WFP seems like apt to me! 🙂 I’ve given up trying, in any way, to “fit in”, as the choices that most people make are just not what I ever wanted for myself — no kids, no house, no shiny new car, no “job”, etc. But I have traveled the world, married twice (still on no. 2!) and having all sorts of adventures still at 57. I have very few regrets.
Great post, as usual!
I would be proud to be a warrior of peculiarity! I’ve always felt I didn’t quite fit, but now I’m older, I like that. And Adam Ant – always loved him!
Love this! Just watched an interview of Robert Greene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJeoyckQn3A think you’ll really like it!
I have a lot of stress living as an expatriate, but whenever I have a bad day or start to think that living in America would be easier, I remember all the stress I had living in my ‘home’ country. It makes me more appreciative. To me, I chose a life of less stress even though most of my family and some of my friends don’t understand it. I would rather be traveling and mixing it up with new people from all over the world than live an ‘easy’ life of boredom. I really love how you expressed that we are warriors of peculiarity even though, to us, it is just our normal way of life and we can’t see how unique we are sometimes. Everyone has a different definition of normal. This piece is a great way to both promote diversity and accept its many forms.
I’m not sure how old you are, but I can tell you (at an age where the mid-life crises are flying left and right all around me) that those who avoid the easy, predictable life are those least likely to have regrets later on. A price to be paid for that, sometimes in loneliness I’m sure, but a different price gets paid in midlife if you’ve had an unexamined life. That, to me, is the more bitter pill.
In many aspects of our daily lives we all plod along doing things the way we do simply because they have always been done that way. It is amazing when you ask ‘why’, how often you get blank looks. I am finding myself a true warrior of late, challenging the norm. Thanks for this post. It made some fantastic points.
Yes, I think I can relate. An inside joke (for which the insiders consist only of me) I often repeat to myself is “I don’t have the choice to be normal.” I get the sense that people can feel my “differentness” just by being around me, before any words are exchanged, and this can produce both violently negative and overwhelmingly positive reactions. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Might be easier if you couldn’t sense the reactions. I know that feeling. But most people who make a difference tend not to be vanilla, right?
Indeed, Kay. Doing your own thing is never, ever wrong. Bravo to your school bus-driving, happy-man brother-in-law for discovering that drum beat his feet wanted to follow out of corporate America forever was really his heart beat. This is a great story, and I agree with Amy, your work deserves very wide exposure, my friend.
Another REALLY good one, kiddo.
This is gorgeous and encouraging to read! I certainly feel very different to the majority of my friends, who live with husbands and children in houses they own. I am happily single, spend my money on travel mostly, do not have a TV, and drive an hour and a half a few Saturdays a month to go to my favourite club and dance for two hours before coming home – specifically enjoying the fact that I am there on my own!
Oh, I love that! That you dance for the sheer joy of it. Some of the happiest women I know travel frequently and live alone. One just took herself to Wyoming for private ski lessons to master moguls. It’s taking a bite out of life. Sounds like you’re a master:).
That was a pretty captivating read, I’ll admit. I don’t usually go for the opinion pieces, but wow!
I sincerely agree with you. My personality has always been devil may care, and if it’s not flashy than there is no point, but I do it for myself, because that’s how I like things.
The attention seekers tend to get on my nerves.
Yes, yes, yes! Love this – every single word. Why hasn’t the Huff Post discovered you yet?? This post needs to be widely publicized. It’s powerful, well-written, spot on, fabulous! Thank you for sharing your clear-eyed vision, K. xo
Such a nice thought, Amy! I’m not sure re: Huff Post other than that I don’t do much self-promotion. But am hoping that yes–some day, through kismet or critical mass,they and the other media gods find me. Thank you for the kind words.