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.
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.
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.